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Baseball clubhouse to have a new use

Changes worth $220,000 will make way for the TASCO city program for teenagers, preserve some baseball memories and add landscaping.

By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 20, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Sports lore is merging with 21st century youth at Crescent Lake.

A facelift for the old baseball clubhouse at Huggins-Stengel field is creating a permanent home for the growing city teen program while preserving reminders of the city's baseball history.

The $220,000 renovation will alter the interior of the building at 1320 Fifth St. N, but Crescent Lake neighborhood president Clifford Holensworth said he expects the 5,000-square-foot job to be a step toward outside improvement, too.

"I think it will complement the area because I'm asking for some things to be done in the parking lot," Holensworth said, citing landscaping and repavement.

Paid for through the county's penny sales tax, the project is expected to start next week. It should be finished by May, officials say.

Inside, the walls will come out and the space reconfigured to make offices and a meeting room.

The city's athletic office will remain in the building, said athletic operations manager Phil Whitehouse.

The biggest change: The building will become home to Teen Arts, Sports and Cultural Opportunities, a city program for youngsters that began as a small sports endeavor in the 1980s.

Known as TASCO, the program has since grown to serve thousands of youngsters around the city.

It has added educational and special events components. Among many other projects, youngsters publish a magazine called Impressions six times a year. They put on a series of summer events, help at such events as the Festival of States and Taste of Pinellas and put on a Halloween carnival for elementary pupils.

"We're happy we're able to be here," said Bob Valente, TASCO supervisor. "The neighborhood association has been very warm and receiving."

Neighbors were "a little leery" at first about TASCO moving into the clubhouse, said Lee Metzger, leisure services administrator.

But the clubhouse will be headquarters for about 20 staff members, not a place where youngsters come to take part in the programs, Metzger said. For about a year, the TASCO contingent has been working out of portable buildings on the site.

Neighbors also wanted to preserve a sense of the baseball history around the site. That's being done by preserving some old lockers and putting up some historic photos, Metzger said.

The clubhouse itself dates just to 1960, relatively new given the number of St. Petersburg oldtimers who recall the glamorous New York Yankees spring-training here during the 1950s -- and much earlier.

The Yankees worked out for decades on the adjacent field, in 1931 named Miller Huggins Field to honor the renowned New York manager. It was renamed Huggins-Stengel Field in 1963 to include crusty Yankees skipper Casey Stengel.

Stories abound. The 1920s Yankees included legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Perhaps the most unusual tale relates the time an alligator surged from Crescent Lake and chased Ruth off the field during the spring of 1925.

Remaining clubhouse photos include a 1930 image of Ruth standing outside the locker room and one of Gehrig posing on the field, with Seventh Street N houses visible in the background.

Through the years, several other professional and amateur teams have played at the field, including the National League's New York Mets.

Tom Seaver, a Mets Hall of Fame pitcher, once came to the clubhouse so he could see his old locker, Whitehouse recalled.

Holensworth said he'd like to persuade current Yankees owner George Steinbrenner or a relative of Stengel (who died in 1975) to attend a dedication ceremony at the clubhouse when one is scheduled.

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