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Why do they call it that? Tampa's first great ball player | News

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Why do they call it that? Tampa's first great ball player

With Spring Training for dozens of teams in Tampa Bay, so many great players came through here.

But Al Lopez came from here -- from a humble white wooden house in Ybor City.

Why do they call it Al Lopez Park?

Lopez was "the first Tampa-born person to make it to the major leagues... [and] the first Tampa-born person to make the Baseball Hall of Fame," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center.

Lopez, a cigar worker's son, was a catcher. During his career, he crouched behind Babe Ruth and so many others.

Sooo many! His 1,900-plus games as catcher was a record that stood -- or crouched, I suppose -- for decades.

Not done yet, Lopez became manger of the Cleveland Indians, then Chicago White Sox -- and took each to a World Series.

Those two seasons were the only time in 16 years that teams other than the Yankees won the American League.

Called El Senor, Lopez was loved by players because he managed by "the golden rule." Respect the players, they'll respect you.

"In the 1950's, when a minor league baseball stadium was built for the Tampa Tarpons, that baseball stadium was named in honor of Al Lopez," Kite-Powell said.

Al Lopez Field hosted the Tampa Tarpons, Spring Training, and even President John F. Kennedy just four days before his death in Dallas.

The ballpark was taken down in 1989. Right in the spot where it used to stand is now Raymond James Stadium, the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"As a way to maintain the name Al Lopez and really kind of still recognize the man and his contributions, they went ahead and named Horizon Park -- which is located just north of the stadium -- in Al Lopez's honor," Kite-Powell said.

Al Lopez Park now sits just a few blocks north of Ray Jay. And at the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and Himes Ave., you'll find a sculpture of El Senor, who passed away in 2005.

The work shows Lopez as a catcher, pulling off his mask and rising from a crouch.

It's big and bronze, just like the other honor Al Lopez earned in 1977, when he became the first person from our Bay area to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.


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