Spring baseball tradition still alive at Al Lang Stadium
ST. PETERSBURG - The players on the baseball diamond were clad in orange and red, but the crowd at St. Petersburg's Al Lang Stadium on Sunday was bathed in blue. "We're Rays fans," said Greg Libel, who came to watch the first of a three-game Spring Training Tournament with his 11-year-old son's Pinellas Park Little League baseball team. "I would hate for anyone to even think I'm here to watch the other teams." A prospect squad from the Baltimore Orioles beat the Philadelphia Phillies' prospects 5-2. The stadium, which seats 6,500, was less than half full, but officials said the crowd of about 2,000 was one of the biggest at a spring game. Prospects from the Atlanta Braves and the Orioles play Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. and the Phillies and Braves play Thursday at 1:05 p.m.Bounce houses, hula-hoop contests and a children's bike giveaway after each inning provided entertainment for the family-friendly crowd, and 12-year-old disc jockey Josh Valenti pumped pop hits through the parking lot. Valenti couldn't even remember which teams were playing in the game, but jumped at the opportunity to combine his passion for the game with his favorite pastime. "I've been DJ-ing since I was 7, so I haven't had a lot of time to play since then except just throwing balls around with my dad," Valenti said. "I'm a Rays fan, so I don't really care who wins the tournament, but I couldn't say no to a free baseball game." Wengay Newton Jr., a youth development worker for the city's Teen Arts, Sports and Cultural Opportunities center, said the group will host scaled-down pre-game parties with T-shirt giveaways for the remaining two games in the tournament. "Next season will be the 100th year of spring baseball in St. Petersburg, so we're trying to make it big," Newton said. St. Petersburg native Scott Ricketts said events like the tournament prove that locals love baseball. Sunday's crowd seemed smaller than the spring games of his youth, he said, but the hundreds of kids will keep the tradition going. "I'm actually here because my 10-year-old Hannah wanted to come," he said. "She doesn't play, but I think she just loves the atmosphere of the games — that or the cotton candy." Tickets for the final two games of the tournament are $10 each.