Land of Kaline

Welcome to “Tiger Town.” Since 1934, the City of Lakeland & Detroit Tigers have had the longest working relationship between any spring training city-host and a Major League Baseball team. Oddly enough, 1934 was the year Detroit Tiger Legend Al Kaline was born. He passed away on April 06, 2020; one of 11 Hall of Famers who have died in the last year or so. Just recently, son Mark Kaline posted a message of gratitude to the team for keeping a locker in the Tiger clubhouse with a uniform ready to go for his dad in the 2021 spring training this year as a sign of respect. In 1954, a 19-year old Al Kaline ventured into the City of Lakeland for the first time to report for spring training with the Detroit Tigers. Back then, Tigers trained at Henley Field just a mile and a half north of here. Joker Marchant Stadium didn’t open until 1966. He signed with the Tigers in 1953 and joined the team shortly after high school. Not only did he play for the Tigers his entire 21-year MLB career, he went on the work for the team as a broadcaster, a special assistant to the team President, and a series of coaching positions. Keeping the number 6 uniform in the clubhouse is a tradition 66 years old and counting. Yes, this is the Land of Kaline and it has called me back many times over the years. Visit the City of Lakeland long enough and it will start to grow on you as it did for “Mr. Tiger.” Here are two of my visits.

New York Yankees @ Detroit Tigers

2010 Spring Training: Detroit Tigers hosted New York Yankees at Joker Marchant Stadium; named after a late parks and recreation director. In his first game against his old Yankee teammates, Johnny Damon was back to his Yankee killing ways with 2 hits, including 1 home run, and 2 RBIs, just like his days with the Boston Red Sox. The 2010 regular season ended in an 81-81 record for the Tigers, an even .500. Longtime voice of the Tigers Ernie Harwell passed away little after spring training on May 4th. He spent a big part of his broadcasting career calling the games Al Kaline played in. From 1960 to 2002, his career with the Tigers started and ended here in Lakeland, Florida. First game was called in Henley Field. The last game was here in Joker Marchant Stadium where he held an end of spring training press conference to announce his retirement. Another Tiger tradition was when Ernie Harwell would kick-off with a biblical recital of “Voice of the Turtle.”

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of the birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land.

Ernie Harwell lived in Lakeland, Florida and only missed 2 games in his 55-year career. Something unique to his life was that, after discovering he had an inoperable tumor, he clearly knew his time in this earth was coming to end. It was a farewell tour like none other.

Florida Southern College Moccasins @ Detroit Tigers 

2017 Spring Training: Detroit Tigers hosted Florida Southern College Moccasins on Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, the first game of the young season. There was a celebration of the longstanding relationship between City of Lakeland and Detroit Tigers. A new agreement of $37 million in renovations and a 20-year deal that ensures “Tiger Town” will be here for an un-precedented 100 years. Publix. the new sponsor, is a large chain of supermarkets that also has their Headquarters here in town.

The Florida Southern College Moccasins is a local Division II program. At the time, they had 9 National Championships and 41 post season appearances, were invited to open Spring Training 2017. Campus is located approximately three and a half miles south of this stadium. Baseball Almanac lists 12 Alumni who have played in MLB.

  • Greg Pryor (1968-1970)
  • Andy Mc Gaffigan (1977-1978)
  • Ralph Citarella (1977-1979)
  • Rob Dibble (1983-1983)
  • James hurst (1988-1989)
  • Carlos Reyes (1990-1991)
  • John Hudek (1987-1988)
  • Brett Tompko (1995-1995)
  • Eddie Gaillard (1992-1993)
  • Lance Niekro (2000-2000)
  • Matt Joyce (2005-2005)
  • Gus Schlosser (2010 2011)

Detroit Tigers selected Colin Kaline (grandson of Al Kaline) in the 2007 MLB draft. He did not sign and instead played for Florida Southern College. He later did sign with the Tigers and played in their minor leagues (2011-2012). SB Nation staff writer Ashley MacLennan reported that Manager Brad Ausmus offered the Moccasins a pitcher or two that he had as extras. Florida Southern College declined the offer. Regardless of the crushing results in this game, surely it was a once in a lifetime experiences and Moccasins begged to differ on anyone suggesting this was not a real game.

Target Field

Detroit Tigers @ Minnesota Twins.

2010 Regular Season in the St Paul-Minneapolis area to see the new Target Field, the house that Kirby Puckett built with a World Championship in 1987 & 1991. Traveling to visit MLB ballparks across the country means going light and trying to stay on the budget. It helps to research and take public transportation whenever possible. In this case, Target Field is in one of those chosen metro-areas with a public train system from the airport that leaves you at the park’s doorstep. The train ride also gives you a chance to get a good view of the park coming in. The Ubers and Airbnbs have also been great options to stay on budget. Overall, the challenge has been game ticket prices.

It was a chilly 45 degree day in Minnesota, definitely crispier then that with the wind blowing. That didn’t slow some people down at the park who were celebrating “Cinco de Mayo.” There was a very popular area behind left field, over the bullpens, lined with wall-to-wall heat lamps. Fans were on top of each other, huddling up to get the rays of comfort, like seals beaching themselves on Skeleton Island, the good old days. Target Field represents the 21st new ballpark, and counting, since the opening of Rogers Centre 1989 (Toronto).

The 2010 Season was the first time, since 1981, that the Minnesota Twins played a home game outdoors. From 1981 to 2009, they played at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, an indoor gym. Target Field is the third home field in the Minnesota Twins’ history. Originally, the Washington Senators move to Metropolitan Stadium (Bloomington, Minnesota) in 1961. This was also the first of three MLB teams to have called Washington D.C. home.

Newly acquired Johnny Damon started in left field for the Detroit Tigers. Early in the year, Miguel Cabrera overheard Johnny Damon tell a reporter that Miguel Cabrera was going to win the 2010 AL MVP. They both looked at each, other nodding their heads. “Then you buy me dinner,” said Johnny Damon. He did not. But, I would say that the seed was planted for a historic 2012 season that awarded Miguel Cabrera his first MVP and the first Triple Crown since Carl Yazstremski in 1967. On the other side of the diamond, Orlando Hudson (O-Dog) would also play the only year with his new team, the Minnesota Twins at second base. “O-Dog” was the hardest working funny man in baseball before he retired. For the times that he was at second base, he was constantly talking to the umpire between pitches. If the umpire’s ears didn’t fall off from the frostbite, I was sure they would from listening to “O-Dog.”

Just the day before, the late Ernie Harwell, the voice of the Detroit Tigers for 42 years passed away from bile duct cancer on May 4, 2010. He knew he was sick for a year beforehand, said his peace in his farewell tour, and found closure with family and friends. I will always admire his grace in the face of his illness. Detroit Tigers wore a black patch with initials “ER” on the right sleeve of their road jerseys to commemorate Ernie Harwell, a baseball life.