Tampa Bay. How A Vacation Destination Became A Professional Sports Town.

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Tampa Bay has been described as a tropical paradise, a beach community, a peninsula within a peninsula.  And when it comes to professional sports, Tampa Bay is “big time.”

MLB owners have been bringing their teams to St. Petersburg since the start of the twentieth century.  Local businessman and eventual St. Petersburg mayor Al Lang worked tirelessly to bring MLB teams to St. Petersburg for spring training. In 1914 the St. Louis Browns became the first MLB team to come down for the warmer climate and to knock off the winter rust.  Over the years players like Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio called St. Petersburg home for six weeks a year as they worked on their baseball swing as well as their golf swing.  Who can forget the famous picture of Joe DiMaggio and wife Marilyn Monroe sunning at the Tides Bath Club on Redington Beach?

There was a time when anybody associated with the NHL would laugh at the thought of professional hockey anywhere near Florida.  Even with the great relationship with part time residents from Canada who come each year to escape the winter months of the great white north, there was just no way Canada’s great export, hockey was going to ever be in Florida. But thanks to NHL hall of fame brothers Phil and Tony Esposito putting their reputations on the line, the NHL would eventually award Tampa Bay the Lightning franchise in 1992 and the rest is history.

For MLS fans the original Rowdies were a true kick in the grass.  Some of the matches between the Rowdies and the New York Cosmos, led by the greatest soccer player of all time, Pele, were legendary.  An English footballer named Rodney Marsh was such a flamboyant MLS character.  Part Gordon Ramsey, part Rod Stewart, Marsh not only captivated the imagination of the league with his style of play, but he also coached the Rowdies from 1984-1986 and captivated many others with his hair.

When the NFL awarded Hugh Culverhouse and Tampa Bay a franchise in 1975, it didn’t feel so much like we were dipping our toes into professional sports waters. It felt like a full-on cannonball.  For as much of a struggle as those first few seasons were, having the Buccaneers felt like Tampa Bay had been given a seat at the adult table at Thanksgiving.  This land of transplants and vacationers was now being recognized as a municipal force to be reckoned with. The fact that we happened to be a tropical paradise was icing on the sunshine cake.

Now we find the Rays off to a franchise best start at 10-3, having won their first four series to start a season for the first time in franchise history.  The Lightning tied the NHL record for wins this season at 62, matching the mark set by the 95-96 Detroit Red Wings. They’ve started their quest for a second chance at hosting Lord Stanley’s Cup, the first having come back in 2004.

We are just under two weeks away from the NFL draft where the Bucs pick at #5. They will surely use this draft position to strengthen our team for the first year under HC Bruce Arians.  As for the Rowdies, they are still a kick in the grass, playing their games at Al Lang Field, historically named for the visionary Al Lang who got the sports ball rolling way back when.

Having strong professional sports franchises here in beautiful west Central Florida allows Bay Area Sports fans to both have our cake as well as eat it too.

 

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