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    Pepin-Rood grandstands going down -- in history

    The 80-year-old stadium grandstands are being removed. A new facility is planned.

    [Times photo: John Pendygraft]
    Ray Bergeron of Cross Environmental Services Inc. removes seats Tuesday morning at the University of Tampa. "The seats aren't going to waste," Bergeron said. "Someone's bought them."

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    By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 1, 2002

    TAMPA -- From baseball legend Babe Ruth to soccer great Mia Hamm, the sports complex at what is now the University of Tampa has hosted stars for the better part of a century.

    Football immortals Jim Thorpe and Red Grange played an exhibition football game on the field. Hurdler Roger Kingdom won a national championship on the track in 1988, on the way to winning his second Olympic gold medal. And Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and other Bucs have sweated through summer training camp at the facility since 1987.

    Now, the 80-year-old stadium grandstands from which fans witnessed many of those feats are coming down. Construction workers began the razing Tuesday, ripping out seats and stripping the adjacent tennis court of lights and nets. In 30 days, there will be little left.

    An era will be over.

    "The engineers said it was time for it to come down," university spokesman Grant Donaldson said Tuesday. "It's had a good run."

    The stadium, now known as Pepin-Rood, has been refurbished several times over the decades. Engineers decided that further work would not help.

    Time, like it does to great athletes, had taken a toll. The rebar was rusting. The concrete was aging. Structurally, it was time for the stadium to retire.

    The playing field, track and baseball diamond will not be torn up. The university plans to build a temporary 1,500-seat stadium at a cost of $700,000, which should be ready for the fall sports season. The long-term plan is to raise enough money to build a permanent facility on the northern perimeter of the campus in three to five years, Donaldson said.

    The site where the stadium sits has played host to a number of noteworthy events. Plant Field existed before the current stadium, hosting a Confederate veterans reunion in 1902 and many early Gasparilla Parades.

    Perhaps the most famous moment in the facility's early sports history was the first exhibition game of the 1919 spring training season between the World Series champion Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants. The baseball diamond was laid out on a racetrack that was part of the Tampa fairgrounds.

    On that sunny Friday afternoon, the Giants' lanky pitcher, George Smith, threw a fastball to then Red Sox slugger Babe Ruth. Ruth crushed the pitch for what has gone down in baseball lore as the longest home run ever.

    Today, a plaque on the university campus marks the occasion of the Ruthian blast and the distance: 587 feet.

    Three years later, the current stadium was built as part of the fairgrounds complex. The ensuing decades saw the Cincinnati Reds train at the field. Thorpe and Grange showed up for the exhibition game. And the Tampa Smokers International League baseball team played there, winning a league title in 1946 by beating a powerhouse team from Havana, Cuba.

    As part of a property exchange with the city, the university gained control of the grounds in 1971. Eventually, the stadium was named for Arthur and Polly Pepin. The track and field were named for Ed Rood.

    In 1983, Arthur Pepin funded a refurbishing that included a covered grandstand with 4,000 seats, locker rooms, concession areas and enhanced lighting.

    A handful of NCAA soccer championships was played at the stadium in the 1980s and 1990s. The National Track and Field Championships came a few months before the 1988 summer Olympics. And the U.S. women's soccer team played at the stadium on a tour after beating China to win the 1999 World Cup.

    Over the years, the stadium also hosted hundreds of community events, including law enforcement football games and Martin Luther King Day events.

    "Those memories will always be around," Donaldson said.

    -- Graham Brink can be reached at 226-3365 or

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