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Ballpark Visit: Huggins-Stengel Field at Crescent Lake Park

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We visit the former spring-training home of the New York Yankees: Huggins-Stengel Field at Crescent Lake Park. Dedicated in 1925 by St. Petersburg Mayor Al Lang, Huggins-Stengel Field was the heart of spring training for generations of baseball fans and is still a fun place to catch a baseball game.

The two historic markers and small clubhouse are still there, as is the scenic backdrop seen by millions of baseball fans on postcards mailed by generations of Yankees fans hitting spring training at a time when it was a much more casual endeavor. Walking up to Huggins-Stengel Field at Crescent Lake Park in St. Pete is remarkably similar to how it was when Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio lined up to clear the winter cobwebs from their swings.

Today, walk up to Huggins-Stengel Field in February or March and you're likely to see some sort of baseball game going on; it's a popular spot for high-school and college squads to scrimmage and compete.

We're not talking elaborate at Huggins-Stengel Field. It is still set up pretty much exactly the same way it was when the Yankees trained here. Nestled in a residential neighborhood -- Crescent Lake Park was set up in 1927 as part of the development of St. Petersburg -- at 1320 5th St North (there are markers pointing the way), Huggins-Stengel Field features a diamond, some bleacher seating, a clubhouse and other open space past the outfield.

The markers commemorating Miller Huggins and Casey Stengel -- two memorable Yankee coaches -- are located at the base of the tower behind home plate.

Crescent Lake Park became the spring home of the New York Yankees in 1925, when St. Petersburg Mayor Al Lang -- yes, the same Al Lang for whom Al Lang Field was named -- presented the facility to the Yankees. From the St. Petersburg Times of Feb. 27, 1925:

St. Petersburg on Monday morning gave to the New York Yankees the Baseball field built for their use at Crescent Lake Park. The eagerness with which the city welcomed its second big league club was demonstrated by the enthusiasm displayed by a crowd of almost 5,000 fans who saw Al Lang, the man who brought the Yankees to Saint Petersburg, throw to Miller Huggins, manager of the Yankees, the ball which symbolized the official transfer of the park.

While cameras clicked on all sides, Lang walked to the pitcher’s box as Huggins took his place behind the plate. When the boss of the Florida State league removed his coat and attempted to go through a wind-up it became evident that he would never be able to make his throw reach the plate without assistance so George Wiltse, coach of the Yankee hurling staff, was called to the rescue.

Over Huggins
After a minute or two during which his arm was massaged by the veteran, Lang felt able to toss the first ball. Huggins took the precaution to remove the mask he had obligingly donned for photographers before he attempted to catch the sphere and his foresight was justified when Lang, after a strenuous wind-up, whizzed one several feet over the diminutive manager’s head.

Setting an example for his regular catchers, Huggins leaped into the air and pulled down the throw which was officially recorded as the first wild pitch of the season.

The ball used was autographed by Al Lang and Miller Huggins and turned over to W.A. Huggins, representing the American Legion, which invited the Yankees to use the field after it had been placed under the Legion’s control by the city commission. Babe Ruth’s signature will be placed on the ball as soon as the home run slugger arrives here.

Seeks Babe’s Baby
During the ceremony representatives of the Chamber of Commerce went through the crowd looking for Miss Dorothy Ruth, daughter of the famous Yankee, to whom they wished to present a large bouquet of red roses. Miss Ruth, however, had accompanied her mother back to the Princess Martha hotel a few moments previously so her admirers were forced to call for her in order to deliver the flowers.

Al Lang started the official proceedings by stopping in front of the Yankee players assembled on the field with a group of New York newspapermen in the background and tendering the park to Miller Huggins in the name of the city of Saint Petersburg.
“We’re giving this field to the team which we know will be the champion of the American League this year,” Lang declared, “for we feel that with the benefit of spring training in our climate the Yankees will be able to take the pennant.”
Hands Over Key
Mayor R.S. Pearce followed with a short talk at the concussion of which he handed to Miller Huggins the key to the city. Huggins took it with a smile and a word of murmured thanks.

Trainer Al Woods was busy Monday morning unpacking boxes of equipment and distributing uniforms and other supplies. Both coaches, George Wiltse and Paul Twitchell, were equally as busy cautioning the rookies against overdoing their first workout.

Miller Huggins found time to speak to each of the players in the club house while he was also kept busy shaking hands with numerous acquaintances. Hugh Bradley, former major leaguer, now in the real estate business here, and Ted Blankenship, veteran of time 15 years ago, and the man credited with being the discoverer of Walter Johnson, renewed old friendships with members of the squad.

Writers Given Hand
The New York newspaper correspondents who were lined up on the field for photographs were given a round of applause when Lang drew the attention of the spectators to them with the remark that it was through them the fame of the Sunshine City was spread.

On the field the rookies tossed the ball back and forth while the two members of last year’s squad Bennie Bengough and Walter Beall, joined in the opening workout. On the firing line with the pitchers was Henry Johnson, last year with the Bradenton club of the Florida State league. Johnson is slated with a try with the Yankees although competition will strong with Nick Cullop, Monroe Swartz, John Bradley and Joseph Maley, among the rookie righthanders. Some of these boys are likely, however, to take over part of the work imposed on Waite Hoyt, Walter Beall, Sam Jones, Bob Shawkey and Urban Shocker, regular righthanders.

Beall arrived Monday morning to join the squad, the first regular hurler to appear. Another arrival Monday was Joseph Maley, who was purchased from the Richmond club of the Virginia league. Maley last year hurled in 38 games and was credited with winning 16 and losing 11. His batting average was .176 and he fielded .981.

The team went through a light workout in the afternoon but regular practice sessions will be started this morning.
....

The playground on which the New York Yankees will train was “made to measure” for Ruth who is the home run king of baseball. Right field at Crescent Lake Park is about 390 from home plate to the outer rim of right field.  Ruth likes to practice his specialty. In batting drill it is not unusual for the Babe to knock a couple of dozen baseballs over the wall, fair and foul, in the average-sized playing field.  In the course of a month training in Saint Petersburg, Ruth and one or two other long-distance hitters on the Yank payroll, might lose more baseballs than the manufacturers could ship into the Sunshine City if there was a short right field with the swamp behind it.  Then new baseballs cost money. The retail price is $2 a copy. Wholesale they may not cost quite so much. But with a short right field at Crescent Lake Park, Ruth might easily lose $50 worth of baseballs each day he practiced. Phil Schenk, groundskeeper in the magnificent Yankee Stadium in New York, came to Saint Petersburg to supervise the laying out of the practice field. He told Al Lang he wanted a deep right field. So they filed in and sodded the field for a distance of 390 feet. Ruth will drive some baseballs farther then that. Some of these will find a swampy grave.  But by stationing some of the every-ready boys around the rim of the outfield to “shag” the drives by Ruth and others which might bound over into the swamp, Huggins will save a lot of baseballs and quite a tidy sum of money.

Schenk, by the way, says that the longest home run socked by Ruth traveled 423 feet from home plate to the spot where it struck on the fly. Phil measured the distance himself.  Spectators who watch the Yanks at practice will have some fun betting on how many Ruth will hit further than 390 feet in Crescent Lake Park. All the home run drives will carry that distance in Saint Petersburg.

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