Dated Little League complex gets a major league boost

The Rays and the city will renovate the West Tampa fields.

Published March 9, 2007

Even the most casual baseball fan recognizes the names:

Fred McGriff. Tony La Russa. Lou Piniella. Tino Martinez.

They're only a few of the major league players and coaches who got their start in the West Tampa Little League.

Last week, Tampa Bay's pro baseball team paid back a little to a youth program that has provided big-time baseball so much talent.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, along with the city of Tampa and other sponsors, broke ground on a renovation of the West Tampa Little League complex.

Work will include renovating the league's three fields and putting in a concession stand and new bleachers roof. The complex is more than 45 years old, and its sandlot fields catered to players in pickup games for years before.

The league will continue its spring season, scheduling games and practices around the renovation, league president Carlos Teijelo Jr. said.

"They were like, we'll wait until you're ready, and we said no, you can start right now," Teijelo said. "We've been waiting a long time for this. We said, we'll work around you."

A look around the complex, off N MacDill Avenue just north of Interstate 275, reveals some areas that could use some help.

The roof of the bleachers at the main diamond, Lorenzo "Tapi" Rodriguez Field, is rusty and broken in places.

Warning tracks on the outfields are peppered with weeds. Paint on the dugouts is weathered and faded. The 1963 concession stand will be razed and rebuilt from scratch, Teijelo said.

The renovation should take one to three months, depending on permits, he said.

Teijelo said he did not know how much the project would cost, and representatives from the city also declined to estimate the expense.

The West Tampa Little League is the second complex renovated by the Devil Rays, which redid St. Petersburg's Oliver Field at Campbell Park in St. Petersburg last year.

Devil Rays star outfielder Carl Crawford spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony. As part of his contract, he makes a financial contribution to the Rays Baseball Foundation, which helps to fund the renovation program.

"You always want to try to do something to help younger kids," Crawford said. "When I have an opportunity like this, I want to take advantage of it."

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sptimes.com or 226-3431.