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Spring Training in Tiger Town

Aug 29, 2007
Like a number of major league baseball teams, the Detroit Tigers head to Florida every year for spring training. And if you want to see the Tigers play any preseason games, you might have to hitch a limo or luxury sedan to the airport and fly down Lakeland, FLA, for a seat in the stadium.

Tiger Town is the Spring Training headquarters for the Detroit Tigers and the regular season home of its minor league farm team in the Class A Florida State League, The Lakeland Tigers. It's owned and operated by the City of Lakeland. The City of Lakeland's Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for maintaining the facilities.

Named in honor of the late Joker Marchant, Lakeland's former parks and recreation director, Joker Marchant Stadium was used by the Detroit Tigers for Spring Training for the first time in 1966 at which time it contained seating for 4,900 spectators. Expansion projects undertaken in the early 1970's and the addition of new grandstands along the left field foul line in 1988 brought the stadium capacity to its current capacity of 7,100 seats. But just because the stadium is older than most in Florida, you can't start calling Joker Marchant "The Joke."

The Detroit Tigers began coming to Lakeland for Spring Training in 1934 and have been coming back each year ever since. The 70-year relationship between the Detroit Tigers and the City of Lakeland is the longest lasting relationship between a major League baseball team and a spring training host city.

The most impressive aspect of attending a Spring Training game in Lakeland is the fact that the Tigers have trained in this city for so long. With the exception of the World War II years (1943-45), Detroit has trained in Lakeland since 1934, the longest relationship between a franchise and host city in spring baseball history. The next closest isn't even that close: the Phillies in Clearwater since 1947. For an even more amazing fact, consider that 18 of the 30 MLB teams changed or established new spring homes in the '90's alone.

The ballpark has aged rather well. When you drive into the main entrance of Tigertown you'll be surprised at how new the outer facade looks. With a host of palm trees greeting your arrival, the ticket booth is the nicest of its kind, with the word "Tickets" emblazoned in big orange letters arched overhead. On either side of the ticket booth, the Tigers pay homage to their history with large banners containing artist's renditions of Tiger greats Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Norm Cash, and Al Kaline.

The first thing you notice when you enter Joker Marchant are the 698 bright orange box seats that comprise the first rows of seating below the main aisle in the grandstand that extends from first base to third base. The majority of the seats are above the main concourse and are aluminum bleachers with blue seat backs.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the stadium is the large grandstand section down the left field foul line, which was built in 1988 and increased Joker Marchant's original seating capacity of 4,900 to 7,027.

The metal bleacher section is one of a kind due to its height and structure. Built in concrete, it's the only bleacher section in Florida that can't be removed once Spring Training is over. The section also towers high above the field. Sitting at the top and even with the outfield fence in left field, the vantage point is as far away from the field as you can get, and is the Grapefruit League's premiere nosebleed seat.

It's from up here that you realize just how spacious the outfield is. At 420 feet to center and 340 down the lines, Joker Marchant has the most outfield territory of any ballpark in the state of Florida. If center field were just a little bit deeper, the outfield dimensions would actually form a square.

Changes are on the horizon in Lakeland, with $10 million in renovations scheduled to be completed in time for the 2003 spring schedule. Enhanced seating, including the creation of a berm in left field, will increase Joker Marchant's capacity to 9,000.

While the team continues to plan changes to Tiger Town there's always the one constant that fans can count on -- the Tigers in Lakeland. And the team recently extended its lease with the city through 2016.
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