Parks and Recreation directors rarely get remembered, but as luck would have it one has lasted the test of time in Florida. In Lakeland, Florida sits Joker Marchant Stadium, the home of the Detroit Tigers’ Class A Advanced minor league team, the Lakeland Flying Tigers. The stadium was named after the late Joker Marchant, the aforementioned Parks and Rec director of Lakeland, Florida. Marchant was one of the people driving to keep the Tigers in Lakeland. The amazing story of the stadium is not it’s conception, but rather it’s longevity. The same facility was built in 1965 and opened in 1966 to bring the Detroit Tigers in for spring training, meaning that only three MLB stadiums are older: Fenway, Wrigley, and Dodger Stadium (Angel Stadium and the Oakland Colosseum also opened in 1966). The Tigers have returned every spring since, making the 2013 season their 47th season at Joker Marchant, but more surprisingly it will mark their 77th season returning to Lakeland for spring training.
The Tigers’ affiliation with the Flying Tigers will not end likely with the resigning of a Player Development Contract (PDC) in which major and minor league teams join new affiliations, since the Flying Tigers are owned outright by the main club in Detroit. Being owned by the big club with no PDC is not normal, actually only a few teams are directly owned by their parent team in this manner. Most minor league teams are independent of the parent clubs, bound only by their PDCs’ for a minimum of two years, with optional two year increments able to be added on when both parties agree. The Atlanta Braves are the oddball in this case, as they outright own all but one of their minor league affiliates, the Lynchburg Hillcats. The total number of minor league teams owned by their MLB affiliate and with no PDC is only 22 out of 240. Since this is baseball and stats need to be discussed, the Braves have 27.3% of all the teams held by their major league affiliate. The majority of the teams directly owned are in the Florida State League with eight, where several of the teams’ stadiums double as spring training facilities, and the Appalachian League, a rookie league with seven.
The city of Lakeland is a place fortunate to have an enthusiastic baseball community, Major League support, and the right weather to keep the fans and the players returning year after year. If you want to experience baseball history along the I-4 Corridor, stop by Tiger Town in Lakeland see what you find.