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Why do they call it that? The Grapefruit League | News

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Why do they call it that? The Grapefruit League
Why do they call it that? The Grapefruit League

When baseball teams come to Tampa Bay for Spring Training, they play in what's called the Grapefruit League. Why not the Orange League? Or the Lemon League?

We're gonna take a swing at finding the answer.

Why do they call it the Grapefruit League?

Lots of Tampa Bay's Spring Training ballparks are shiny and new. But the connections go back to black and white.

The Detroit Tigers have been coming to Lakeland to warm up and work out after a winter off since 1934.

It's the longest-lasting tie between a ball club and a Spring Training city.

But the beginnings of Spring Training in Tampa Bay go back even further.

"Spring Training started in the Tampa Bay area with the Cubs coming to Tampa in 1913," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center.

"Al Lang, who was in St. Petersburg -- a huge baseball fan -- tried to get different baseball teams to come to St. Petersburg. He finally induced the Cubs to move their Spring Training from New Orleans to St. Pete.

"But something must have happened on the way to St. Petersburg, and they stopped in Tampa -- and they liked what they saw -- and they stayed. So it wasn't until the following year, in 1914, that the St. Louis Browns came to St. Petersburg to begin their Spring Training."

In the lobby of the Tampa Bay History Center, one of the huge "Icons of Tampa Bay" that hangs overhead is an image of perhaps the most famous man to train in Tampa Bay: Babe Ruth.

Imagine being one of 4,000 people in 1919 at Plant Field -- a spot that's now right in the middle of the University of Tampa campus. Babe Ruth smashed, crushed, destroyed a home run that flew 587 feet. It's fabled to be the longest homer the Babe ever hit.

As more major league clubs started swinging into Spring in sunny Florida, an informal league cropped up to coordinate games between the teams.

"I don't know that anybody really knows the true origins of the term Grapefruit League. In 1915, there was an interesting incident in Daytona Beach that may have given rise to the name," Kite-Powell said.

"There was an aviator named Ruth Law who was doing exhibition flying... she took a Dodgers player up in the plane with her. And the idea was for him to throw a baseball down to his manager on the field.

"I guess at some point he realized that might kill the guy. So instead of throwing a baseball, he threw a grapefruit. And the grapefruit hit the manager in the chest and exploded.

"The manager, for a few seconds, actually thought it was his chest that had exploded from the force of the baseball hitting him. And felt the juice, thought it was blood, screamed out, 'I'm dying! I'm dying!'

"His whole team thought it was great fun 'cause they knew he wasn't dying -- they knew he was just hit by a grapefruit."

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

Make sure you catch "Why do they call it that?" next Wednesday on The Morning Show on 10 News.

We met up with the Tampa Bay Rays' mascot, Raymond, and got him to explain where he came from and what exactly he is. And of course, Raymond did it without saying a word.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

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