Legends Field gets new name

The Yankees' spring facility officially is Steinbrenner Field.

By Mike Brassfield, Times Staff Writer
Published February 15, 2008

TAMPA - Everyone knows George Steinbrenner as the Boss, the fiery and demanding owner of the New York Yankees. But many in the Tampa Bay area have seen his other side - the philanthropist who has given away tens of millions of dollars to children's causes.

So at the urging of Tampa and Hillsborough County leaders, the Yankees announced Thursday that they are renaming Legends Field, their local spring training complex, as George M. Steinbrenner Field.

"I am humbled and flattered to have this outstanding and totally unexpected honor conferred on me," Steinbrenner said in a statement released by the Yankees. At 77 and reportedly in declining health, he has stepped back from the spotlight in recent years.

Legends Field, named for the Yankees' collection of legendary players, opened 12 years ago on N Dale Mabry Highway when the team moved its spring training quarters from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa. The 10,000-seat complex, in many ways a miniature version of Yankee Stadium in New York, is also home to the minor league Tampa Yankees.

The new name should go up on the stadium by late March, toward the end of spring training, said team spokesman Howard Rubenstein.

It's in recognition of the fact that one of Tampa's most famous residents has donated generously to youth activities, hospitals, law enforcement and the arts in his adopted hometown. Steinbrenner has been doing so since he moved his family to Tampa in 1973, the same year he bought the Yankees with his fortune from the shipbuilding industry.

"He has given to everything in the world," said former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, his longtime friend. "There are so many things that he's done quietly that people don't know about."

The Yankees control the naming rights to the county-owned stadium. But this name change was widely expected, and follows unanimous votes of the Tampa City Council and Hillsborough County Commission last week calling for the move.

"This absolutely is the right thing to do, to be able to thank George in our own way for what he has done in our community," said Rose Ferlita, a county commissioner and former City Council member who helped initiate the move.

In addition, the Hillsborough School Board voted in December to name a new high school in Lutz after Steinbrenner.

Local officials praised his deeds, which include:

-Paying for Hillsborough middle school sports when they were threatened by budget cuts in the late 1990s;

-Underwriting Christmas concerts by the Florida Orchestra for thousands of children in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties;

-Providing lighting systems for area Little League fields and athletic fields for several Florida universities.

They singled out Steinbrenner's founding of the Gold Shield Foundation, which provides financial assistance and tuition-free college educations for children of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty in seven counties around Tampa Bay.

Steinbrenner's longtime right-hand man, former FBI agent Phil McNiff, told the Tampa City Council about his boss' reaction to the news that officials were calling for Legends Field to bear his name.

"He's a big, tough man. He had tears in his eyes. He said, 'Do you really mean that?' I said, 'Yes, sir, they are.'"

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or 813 226-3435.