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25 Years Later, Yankees Still A Big Spring Training Draw In Tampa

People in stadium
Dylan Rudolph/WUSF Public Media
The Yankees' full squad reported Thursday as the rain kept the crowd at thin in the morning.

The cracks of the bats and the pops of the gloves signal that baseball is back as the New York Yankees mark the organization's 25th anniversary of spring training at the George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.

Thursday saw a swarm of Yankee fans as the entire squad practiced hitting and fielding after pitchers and catchers reported last week. Fans were given programs and allowed to browse the Yankees shop just before entering the stadium.

To begin the celebration, the organization held its “Yankees Sprint to Spring 5K & Fun Run” on Feb. 16.

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Once the spring season begins, each home game will feature giveaways like pins and toy truck keychains.

But for the team, it’s more than events and memorabilia.

"For us, it's just about celebrating and honoring our history here and our past," said Julie Kremer, director of business development and marketing. "Mr. Steinbrenner brought us here in 1996, and we just feel very, very lucky to be part of the community."

Player numbers
Credit Dylan Rudolph / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
Plaques for each New York Yankees player with a retired number for the franchise

Tampa became a popular spring training site in 1913 when the Chicago Cubs were the first Major League Baseball team to come to Florida to practice. In the next few decades, the city hosted several different teams for spring training and was home to a number of minor league teams during the summer.

Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ owner from 1973 until his death in 2010, was a driving factor for the Tampa stadium's construction, having lived in Tampa years before and wanting to move spring operations from Fort Lauderdale.

In 1993, the county began building Steinbrenner Field using public funds. It hosted its first spring training game on March 1, 1996, when the Yankees played the Cleveland Indians.

The field has also been home to the Tampa Yankees, now Tampa Tarpons, the franchise’s Class A-Advanced affiliate since 1994.

Eventual legends of the franchise like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera spent time in Tampa. In 1994, Jeter was named the MVP of the Florida State League while with the Tampa Yankees. ​

While the Tampa Bay Rays have had trouble drawing fans to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg for regular season baseball in recent years, the Yankees still experience love from their fans in the area.

"With a lot of the snowbirds that come down for spring training – and moving down here full time – there's always going to be a demand for Yankees baseball and for baseball in general," Kremer said.

The Yankees received further incentive to stay in 2016 in the form of a $40 million-dollar renovation of the facilities. Funds came from the county, the State of Florida’s Spring Training Retention Program and the team.

The Yankees’ first spring training game is Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays at Steinbrenner Field. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.

Logo on screen
Credit Dylan Rudolph / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
New York Yankees are celebrating their 25th anniversary of spring baseball in Tampa