There is now a single greatest institution in Florida spring training: Tiger Town in Lakeland. The Tigers have been training in Lakeland since 1934 and have been playing in Joker Marchant Stadium since 1966. In those many years Tiger Town has evolved into a complete training complex that includes the ballpark, other training fields, dorm, training facilities and team clubhouses.
The 2004 season was the first year the Tigers played in a renovated Joker Marchant Stadium, the latest renovation of the venerable spring-training base. The $11-million renovation, designed by HKS, brought about new faux red-tile roofs that create lofty shaded, covered concourses and bright stucco towers, arches, columns, and walls that anchor the exterior. The concourses provide much needed shelter from the unwanted rain spells during the grand opening weekend while the lush landscaping makes an immediate impression all over Tiger Town. The concourse features new and renovated restrooms, re-themed concessions, and vibrant graphics and signage. Ornamental fencing and natural wood trellises accent the perimeter and entry gates to create an open plaza.
Just beyond left field rests the new 45-foot slope to 16-foot high, above grade grass seating berm and trellised patio lined with mature palms. On the backside of the berm a fifth, full-size practice field has been added. The berm ends as it stretches toward centerfield. The dark windscreen tarp that forms the batter's eye in center hides the new maintenance building built to service the whole complex. Between the batter's eye and the scoreboard, in right field, the relocated bullpens nest behind padded chain link fencing. The exposed dual, three-pack mounds allow full view from the stands and dugouts. Additional batting cages have been added near the practice fields to double the number of covered cages to eight. Inside the ballpark, new "ballpark green" individual armchair seats with cup holders replace the old orange seats and metal bleachers in the main stadium and fill the first base seating porch. Three new rows have been added along the backstop, bringing fans within 50 feet of home plate. A new vertical backstop screen replaces the old canopy screen. This allows fans a chance to grab a few foul balls. Past first base, the seating bowl was angled toward the infield and extended down the right field line 94 feet. This created an intimate area where fans are closer to the action.
Accessible seating platforms now accommodate guests with special needs in five areas throughout the ballpark. Combined with the existing 2,863 seats in the third base grandstand, the new capacity has increased to 8,000. The addition of 900 seats does not include an estimated 500 lawn seats out on the berm where fans are expecting to soak up the sun, relax, and catch a few home run balls. An elevator, hidden inside a stucco marquee tower of Joker Marchant Stadium, transports fans to a covered balcony that connects the newest elements of the ballpark. Behind home plate, the new expanded press box features a two-tiered writing press platform with an attached workroom lounge, four broadcast booths for radio and television, and a scoreboard/PA booth. The addition of six new furnished suites, themed after Tiger all-time greats Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Willie Horton, Al Kaline, and Hal Newhouser, provide a comfortable perch to watch the game. Flanking the suites on either side of the press box and suites are two open-air covered patio lounges, four new restrooms, and a food service catering pantry.
Players, coaches, and staff will notice the renovations to the clubhouses. The new visiting clubhouse located adjacent to the existing weight room has doubled in size. Visitors, who were in tight quarters, have more locker room and shower space, a separate trainers room and separate coaches office, lockers and showers. The home clubhouse recaptured the vacated visitor's area but was not fully renovated in this construction phase. Relocated and demolished walls have opened up the east corner for more storage and an office. More than 32,000 square feet have been added with 21,000 square feet of renovations throughout Tiger Town.
Tiger Town is one of the more historically interesting sites in the Grapefruit League. It was built on the site of a World War II flight school, the Lodwick School. Between 1940 and 1945 more than 8,000 cadets, including British Royal Air Force cadets, attended the Lodwick School of Aeronautics and more than 6000 graduated. Some of the remnants of that school still exist, including several hangars that have been renovated and used for various purposes. Sadly, the most recent renovations to Tiger Town included the removal of a runway beyond the outfield wall.
Detroit Tigers Spring Training History
The Detroit Tigers have trained in Lakeland since 1934. Other spring-training homes of the Tigers: Detroit (1901); Ypsilanti, Mich. (1902); Shreveport (1903-1904); Augusta, Ga. (1905-1907); Hot Springs, Ark. (1908); San Antonio (1909-1910); Monroe, La. (1911-1912); Gulfport, Miss. (1913-1915); Waxahachie, Texas (1916-1918); Macon, Ga. (1919-1920); San Antonio (1921); Augusta, Ga. (1922-1926); San Antonio (1927-1928); Phoenix (1929); Tampa (1930); Sacramento (1931); Palo Alto, Cal. (1932); San Antonio (1933); Lakeland (1934-1942); Evansville (1943-1945); Lakeland (1946-present).
Joker Marchant Stadium was built in 1966 and named after the city's popular parks and rec director, Joker Marchant.
The 800-seat Henley Field, the former spring-training home of the Tigers, still exists and was used by the Lakeland Tigers for the 2002 season. The Cleveland Indians used Henley Field for spring training from 1924 to 1927, and the Tigers used it for spring training between 1934 and 1966. Florida Southern University calls Henley Field home.