LAKELAND (FOX 13) - Take me out to the (renovated) ballgame! In Lakeland, that has a new meaning, or at least a new look and feel.
The Tigers team showed off renovations to its 60-year-old ballpark, Joker Marchant Stadium, as the entire state welcomes the crucial spring training industry for the next six weeks.
"We went from ancient history to modern times," said Tigers general manager Al Avila.
The total cost was $46 million. The 1966 stadium last had a major renovation in 2003. One weekend last year, 24 people needed an ambulance because of heat exhaustion.
"We added no stainless steel, nothing that gets hot, because this is Florida."
New handrails, seats and larger overhangs are an effort to cool people down while they watch Justin Verlander throw heat.
"We made a concerted effort for shade," Avila said.
There are also padded seats and more bathrooms, taking into account longer lines at the women's rooms. They added more women's rooms than men's rooms. But the key is the Publix sponsorship, which for $3 million assures the team will stay in Lakeland for at least twenty more years.
Palace Pizza downtown did some of the catering for Thursday's soiree, showing off the ballpark to top baseball executives and the governor. Its owner says spring training crowds are good for his business and others.
"They go to the games, they come back here to eat here," said Sal Schiano, the owner.
The Tigers are one of three Bay Area spring training ballparks that got major renovations this off-season, often with both public and private money, including the Yankees and Pirates. The Grapefruit League got a blessing from baseball's commissioner, Rob Manfred.
The first game here against Major League competition is Friday against the Orioles at 1:05 p.m.