You might — and probably will be — greeted by a rooster.
No, it’s not on a farm, but one that roams the historic streets of Ybor City, some of which are still laid in brick from nearly a century ago.
And, tucked away on those historic streets, at 2003 N. 19th St., is the Tampa Baseball Museum.
It opened in September and is inside the Al Lopez House, which was painstakingly moved from its original place in West Tampa to Ybor City.
Step inside the museum, and 135 years of Tampa baseball history and heritage greets visitors. It’s a place where 89 professional baseball players with Tampa roots are honored.
The impressive and immersive exhibit displays the rich and diverse stories dating back to long before the Tampa Bay area received a major league franchise.
Baseball and Cigars
In 1887, Ybor City was a small but crowded town with about 700 residents.
What else is there to do? Start a baseball team? Why not!
Residents would come by the hundreds to watch the team play other Florida teams. A decade later, the Cuban Cigar Industry came to Ybor City and the love of baseball bloomed.
Later in the 1910s, Spring Training would come to Tampa, with the Chicago Cubs playing on Plant Field. Six other teams would join the Cubs: the Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Washington Senators, Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees.
Minor League teams formed shortly after this, including the Tampa Smokers in 1919 — one of the first teams of the Florida State League. That team ended in 1929, but not before it was able to sign and develop Al Lopez, its most pivotal player.
The man, the legend
Lopez, who grew up playing in the sandlots of Ybor City, made his major league debut in 1928, becoming the first Tampa native to enter the Majors.
After a career that lasted nearly 20 years, he would become a manager, doing that for nearly another 20 years. Lopez also is the first Tampa native to manage a major league team, the first to manage a team to a World Series and the first to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which happened in 1977.
Lopez’s 1,410 MLB managerial wins are ranked 11th all-time.
It’s why the original Al Lopez Field was named after him when it opened in 1955. It would host Spring Training games for the Cincinnati Reds and the Tampa Tarpons, the Reds Class-A minor league team at the time until it was demolished in 1989, when the Tampa Bay area began pursuing a major league expansion team.
If you visit this museum …
Take your time. There’s much more Tampa Baseball History than you’ll expect. There’s a continuous running video presentation and various timelines of the different aspect of baseball in Tampa, including Tampa Bay receiving the expansion Devil Rays, the Negro Leagues and baseball during wartime.
Be sure to check out the wall of signed balls that include older players, Hall of Famers and even current players.
And once you’re done, head out past the roosters and go get a Cuban sandwich, one to honor Mr. Lopez and his hometown.
Tampa Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House
Where: 2003 N. 19th St., Tampa
When: Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost: $12 adults, $10 Military, Seniors 65+, Students 18+ (ID required), $6 children
Details: An interactive history museum on the 135-year history of baseball in Tampa
Info: Call 813-400-2353, or visit TampaBaseballMuseum.org
Published April 06, 2022