The Mets History of Spring Training in St. Petersburg Florida (1962 - 1987)

Before the New York Mets made their Spring Training home on the East Coast of Florida in Port St. Lucie, they called St. Petersburg on the West Coast their home. They opened up camp in their inaugural season of 1962 & played 25 Spring Trainings there through 1987.

AL Lang was a businessman, turned politician & Mayor of St. Petersburg from 1916 to 1920. He was the first to see the potential the area had to have baseball teams from the cold Northeast winters, prepare for their seasons in sunny Florida. 

Al Lang was instrumental for making Florida the home of Spring Training & forming the Grapefruit League.

In 1916 the St. Louis Browns practiced there for Spring Training. Eventually the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals & A.L. New York club all came to St. Petersburg. Over the next decade he was able to lure in nine of the then, twelve MLB teams.

In 1947 the City of St. Petersburg opened up Al Lang Stadium named in his honor, The St. Louis Cardinals & the A.L. New York team were the first to play there. 

By 1951 the New York Giants joined the party. The A.L. team would play there through 1961, with the exception of 1951 season.  The Cardinals remained there until 1997, sharing the facility with the New York Mets during the 1980's heyday of the two teams' rivalry.

In 1963 the former Crescent Lake Field was renamed Huggins - Stengel Field, named after former Manager, Miller Huggins & then current Mets skipper Casey Stengel. The Mets would practice there & then play their games down the road at Al Lang Stadium.

The area grew through the years to the moder day city it has become. Early on former VP of the Mets Minor League Development & future Cardinal Manger; Whitey Herzog, recalls rarely seeing a woman under 50 years old & how the boys went crazy if they did. 

Former Italian American Player / Broadcaster; Joe Garagiola remembered taking ferries over to Sarasota, since in St. Pete the only place to really go out at night was the famous Dog Track.

Former Mets World Champion Short Stop Bud Harrelson remembers, being a 19-year-old kid in Florida for the first time. Veteran Mets pitcher, Tracy Stallard took him to a dog track even though he still didn't drink or gamble, showing him the ropes of being a big leaguer.

Former Mets coach & Manager Yogi Berra said he knew one of the dog track's owners & had a dog named after him- Yogi Berra.

Bud Harrelson also recalls buying his Superman t-shirts at a small shop in St. Pete, I'm guessing the most famous one he wore after the infamous fight with Pete Rose in the 1973 NLCS. 

Eventually the area had many popular restaurants. Early sixties Mets slugger: Frank Thomas said when he was out to dinner with the Mets owner Joan Payson, she ordered a steak & when the waitress asked how she wanted she said- "cut off his horns, wipe him & bring it out".

Mets Hall of Fame Pitcher; Tom Seaver remembers, Huggins - Stengel Field with its wooden lockers, had an innocence of the 1950's. Seaver loved the surrounding area especially the Yacht Club.

This was the place the 1969 Mets began their amazing season. So many of those now legendary players autograph photos from that era were taken at this ballpark with its famous little clubhouse in the background.

Former Mets manager Joe Torre played there as a member of the Cardinals & the Mets for many years. He said it was the only place where he ever hit three HRs in a game, including little league. Players remembered if a HR was hit into the Bay, a bunch of kids would dive into the water to chase the ball.

St. Petersburg had it's share of drama as well. It was also the place where in 1975 Cleon Jones who stayed behind as the team went North & then got caught up in an affair with a young woman which started the demise of his baseball career that season. Jones was caught naked with the woman in a van & at first lied about who he actually was. The situation was not handled well by the organization as they made Jones apologize publicly with is wife by his side. After conflicts with Yogi Berra, he was let go in August. Berra was dismissed a few weeks afterward as well.

Many great memories came from these years as this was the same place, in 1979 that the legendary fictional Mets star Chico Escuela (Saturday Night Live's Garrett Morris) told Bill Murray in an interview that "baseball been berry-berry good to me". 

Murray was reporting from the Mets 1979 Spring Training that featured Ed Kranepool for SNL's Weekend Update.

It was also a few years later, when the strong Mets team so of the 1980's started warming up prior to their seasons. In 1985 it's where writer Geroge Plimpton made up the April Fool's hoax of the Mets fictitious legend, Sid Fynch in an issue of Sports Illustrated.

In 1986 Mookie Wilson was hit in the eye by a throw from Rafael Santana during a base running drill. The ball shattered Wilsons sunglasses which took most of the impact & actually may have saved further injury to his eye. Wilson would miss the first month of the season but did go one to become the World Series hero that year.

The Mets left St. Petersburg for their new home in Port St. Lucie in 1988. They have spent the last 35 years there as their Spring home.


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