The Tampa Bay Rays opened their 2008 run to the American League Pennant by selecting Walter Lee “Dirk” Gibbons with their first pick in the draft. Even for an organization with a reputation for smart draft picks, this one proved exceptional, if somewhat belated. “Dirk” Gibbons, after all, had long since seen his fastball velocity decline, and the break in his curve ball dwindle. Then 79, his playing days were long past. He and his Tampa Rockets’ teammates were pioneers however and the Rays, by selecting him first in the Negro Leagues Draft, honored the legacy of the Florida State Negro Leagues in Tampa Bay’s baseball history
If Ybor City's backbone was its cigar factories, Cuscaden Park was its heart. The park still exists today, though it is a faint shadow of its former self. Its 500-seat capacity grandstand was demolished, and its baseball fields gave way to soccer fields. To drive past the park today, some would never know that this field was once Ybor City's Field of Dreams.
Tampa and Baseball are like café and leche: one strong, pungent, hot, steady, ageless, fresh; neither quite as good apart as they are together. It is hardly possible to find a moment in the city's history when the game was not being played, when it didn't matter, particularly to Tampa's Latin working class. Baseball's economic benefits have also been considerable: today, the estimated total impact of the nine teams training in the Tampa Bay area surpasses $227 million. Tampa and Baseball have been good for one another.
The Tampa Baseball Club of 1884-1885, winners of the South Florida Baseball Championship. Standing, center: Oliver Andreu, Secretary-treasurer. Top row, L-R: W.A. Legate, Charlie Livingston, John A. Jackson, J.A.M. Grable, E.L. Lesley. Bottom row, L-R, Ed Drake, J.C. McKay, B.A. Brown, Al Knight. The team members not present when the photo was taken were A.W. Cuscaden and George A. Bell.–Excerpted from the Tampa Daily Times, November 12, 1924.
Before spring training became the Florida mainstay it is today, baseball began taking root in the Tampa Bay area late in the 19th century. A.M. de Quesada's book, Baseball in Tampa Bay, notes how Union and Confederate soldiers brought the game to the Sunshine State when they returned home from the Civil War. Tampa had a team in the first short-lived Florida State League in 1892.
From 1946-1953, Tampa residents were elated by the Florida International League’s Class B baseball club, the Tampa Smokers. They hit their peak during the post-war boom.