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Sunday, Jul 15, 2018
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Wake-Up Call: Lopez Field was a memorable place

The Wake-Up Call greets you each weekday with news, views and a few Tampa Bay area sports offerings to anticipate for the day and night. We encourage suggestions and contributions. Good morning! Twenty years ago today, the wrecking ball began taking its hacks at Al Lopez Field. Within a few weeks, it was all gone. And there stood a parking lot. To find the site of Al Lopez Field now, head to the northeast quadrant of Raymond James Stadium. After that, just use your imagination.
Try to visualize a little bandbox with a high, curved tin roof, which reacted with a loud thud when struck by a foul ball. Can you hear public-address announcer Ross Bartow? Good afternoon and welcome to Al Lopez Field, winter home of the Cincinnati Reds. Think about all those memories, particularly in the 1970s, when a couple of bucks could get you good seats for a lineup that included Rose, Griffey, Morgan, Bench, Perez, Concepcion and all the rest. Florida's spring training used to have quirky old places such as Al Lopez Field. There was Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, Payne Park in Sarasota, Tinker Field in Orlando and Terry Park in Fort Myers. Now, not so much. Now spring training stadiums are more like palaces, complete with all the amenities (and potential for big profits). Truth be told, Al Lopez Field wasn't very comfortable. Its drainage system was nonexistent (if it rained, even just a bit, there would be no game). The clubhouses were extremely cramped. But it was where President John F. Kennedy spoke in 1963 - four days before he was assassinated in Dallas. It's where I got my first autograph (Pittsburgh catcher Manny Sanguillen). It's where I saw Hank Aaron sneak a home run over the left-field fence, just a few weeks before he broke Babe Ruth's record. It's where I saw the Big Red Machine play - at least 100 times. It's where a group of us went to watch the Reds and Red Sox complete the 1975 spring schedule. Who knew it was coming attractions for one of the greatest World Series showdowns? Everybody else bailed out, leaving me without a ride home. I stayed until the end (Reds 1, Red Sox 0; 16 innings; the winning run scored on a suicide squeeze). Al Lopez Field (at a cost of $287,901) opened March 10, 1955. The Chicago White Sox beat the Cincinnati Redlegs 10-7 on a grand slam by Minnie Minoso before 3,025 fans. The White Sox, which would be managed by Al Lopez, Tampa's baseball patriarch, shared the field with Cincinnati until 1959.

When the Reds went north, the Florida State League's Tampa Tarpons took over. So many Reds legends played with the Tarpons, including Pete Rose, who batted .331 with a league-record 30 triples in 1961, and Johnny Bench. But by 1984, progress was on the way. The Tampa Bay Baseball Group, hoping to attract a major-league franchise, announced plans for a $50 million, 46,000-seat baseball coliseum on the site of Al Lopez Field. The group kept pursuing its plans, even when momentum shifted to the Florida Suncoast Dome (now Tropicana Field), even when the Reds fled for Plant City, even when the Tampa Sports Authority voted 9-0 to demolish the old stadium in 1988, creating more parking spaces and revenue for football games. On Aug. 28, 1988, in what turned out to be the final game at Al Lopez Field, the Tarpons defeated Port St. Lucie 6-1 (the final two regular-season games were rained out, and weather also canceled games in an FSL playoff series). A few months ago, I mentioned Al Lopez Field to someone. "You mean Al Lopez Park, that place where people run?'' they said. No, not exactly. It's hard to explain the value of a rickety old baseball park, especially when you are accustomed to places such as Raymond James Stadium and Steinbrenner Field. But Al Lopez Field not only existed, it had an unmistakable spot in Tampa's sports history. Those memories never can be torn down. Minnesota Twins OF Denard Span (Tampa Catholic) had his second career four-hit game, getting four singles in Monday night's 7-2 victory at Detroit. Span went 4-for-4 last season on July 10. Oddly enough, that game was also at Detroit's Comerica Park. The University of Tampa Spartans (27-12) and Florida Southern Mocs (42-13) were selected for the NCAA Division II softball South Region Tournament, which begins Friday in Valdosta, Ga. The Spartans face Gulf South Conference Tournament champion Valdosta State (54-6) in the opening round (VSU defeated UT 10-5 on Feb. 22 in the Eckerd College Tournament at Clearwater). Florida Southern meets Nova Southeastern (47-13). The Spartans are led by sophomore pitcher Deanna Henriott (St. Petersburg Catholic), who is 18-9 with a 1.27 ERA and 254 strikeouts in 182 innings. UT's leading hitter is freshman catcher Becky Vyzas (Academy of the Holy Names), who is batting .402. Clearwater Threshers OF Dominic Brown, who played at Pasco High before finishing his senior year at a Georgia school, was named Florida State League Player of the Week. Brown, one of the prized prospects in the Phillies' organization, batting .462 (12-for-26) with six runs scored, three home runs, seven RBIs and a .962 slugging percentage. New Hampshire Fisher Cats 1B Brian Dopirak (Dunedin), playing in the Blue Jays' organization, was named Player of the Week in the Double-A Eastern League. Dopirak batted .400 (10-for-25) with three home runs, eight RBIs and a slugging percentage of .840. With Sunday's 6-for-6 stolen-base effort of Rays LF Carl Crawford still the baseball buzz, Buster Olney of ESPN.com writes, "It's not unreasonable to wonder whether Crawford will approach 100 stolen bases this season.'' Crawford is 18-for-18 this season and his career high is 59 (2004). The last major-leaguer to steal 100 was St. Louis Cardinals OF Vince Coleman (109 in 1987). Tampa's Keith Dilworth finished 10th in Saturday's U.S. Practical Shooting Association Single Stack National Championship at Sedro-Woolley, Wash. The name "Single Stack'' refers to the model 1911 pistol used in competition, which features magazines that hold just a single column of ammunition. UCLA freshman Carling Seguso (Bradenton Prep) won five matches without dropping a set to win the Pac-10 Championships invitational singles title at Ojai, Calif. She is the daughter of former tennis pros Robert Seguso and Carling Bassett-Seguso. Happy birthday to former Bucs tight end Alex Smith - and the former is a recent designation; he was just traded to New England - who turns 27 today.

Here's the answer to Monday's trivia question: Dating to 2008, in regular-season games, Crawford has stolen 19 bases without being caught. The last catcher to throw out Crawford was Toronto's Rod Barajas on July 18 during an attempted steal of second base. Here's our daily sports trivia question, featuring a Tampa Bay/Florida spin. Try your luck by commenting below. The Cincinnati Reds played their final spring-training game at Al Lopez Field on April 3, 1987, defeating the Houston Astros, 8-7. Who hit a 10th-inning home run to end that game? Check for the answer in Wednesday's Wake-Up Call.
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