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Tigers kick off 75th year of spring training in Lakeland

Posted Feb 27, 2011 by

Updated Feb 28, 2011 at 08:32 PM

3-14-2010 Joker Marchant

A year after the tiny town of Lakeland was formed in 1885, the city’s founders passed an ordinance that made “straggling around” a crime.

Apparently, the law doesn’t apply to pro sports franchises as the Detroit Tigers opened up their 75th season of spring training in Lakeland with their game against the visiting Blue Jays.
With the exception of the years during the World War II, the Tigers have spent every spring since 1934 in this small agricultural town. It is the longest running tenure between a Major League baseball team and their adopted home city.

“Seventy-five years is a long time,” said Ron Myers, the director of the Tigers’ Lakeland operations. “The relationship between the city of Lakeland and the Detroit Tigers organization is one of the greatest in the game of baseball.”

That relationship is even more extraordinary when you consider the fact that unlike most spring training sites, the City of Lakeland doesn’t have the typical tourist attractions like pristine beaches or theme parks.

The sprawling complex at Tiger Town was originally built in 1934 on the grounds of the former Air Force training base, the Lodwick Aeronautic Academy. The old airplane hangars served for many years as indoor practice areas and batting cages for the team and up until the most recent renovation, a full runway sat just beyond the left field fences.

Joker Marchant Stadium, which was named in honor of the long-time Parks and Recreation director, was built in 1966 to replace Hendry Park. Despite the age of the stadium, it remains one of the pristine jewels of spring training thanks to a $10 million renovation that began in 2003.

The concession stands at Joker Marchant pay homage to the site’s former life as a military compound by giving the concourse an army barracks theme with camouflage signage and soldier-inspired menu offerings like the bombardier dog.

“It’s beautiful this Tiger Town. I think in life you can have the best, but you have to have good people, and Lakeland has been very fortunate to have good people through generations,” longtime Detroit outfielder Willie Horton said. “We’ve got good people working together, and that’s what makes this thing all work. It’s a family.”