Tampa takes its sports seriously. And because there's a host of professional sports teams in the Tampa Bay area – including major league baseball franchises that call the region their home during spring training – it's never difficult to find a game or two to enjoy. Indeed, die-hard sports fans head here for the action and are rarely disappointed, no matter what time of year. For those people, the Tampa Bay area is much more than just a pretty beach.
Major League Baseball
- Tampa Bay Rays – The Tampa Bay area's very own major league baseball team is based in the city of St. Petersburg, across the bay from Tampa. The Rays were established in 1995, welcomed as the 13th expansion team in Major League Baseball history, but it wasn't until the start of the 1998 season that the team played their first official game. Though the team hasn't yet made it to a pennant race, they have sent a number of players to the annual All-Star game.
The Rays play at Tropicana Field, originally dubbed the Florida Suncoast Dome. It's the only Major League park to feature an artificial surface and all-dirt base paths. Other interesting and fun amenities include a 10,000-gallon tank filled with cownose rays that fans can touch and feed, a stickball playing area that resembles a New York alley, and a kid-themed area with a carnival-like atmosphere.
Spring Training and Minor League Teams
The population of the Tampa Bay area swells in the spring as avid baseball fans head to the region to watch their favorite teams prepare for the upcoming season. It's a great way to enjoy the teams and tickets cost far less than they would for a regular season game.
- New York Yankees – Established in 1903, the championship New York Yankees spend their time in Tampa during spring training. They've been playing at Legends Field since 1996. This 31-acre complex includes a 10,000 seat stadium and field dimensions identical to those at New York's Yankee Stadium. The field is also home to the Tampa Yankees Class A Advanced team.
- Toronto Blue Jays – The Blue Jays have been training in Dunedin, FL since they became a franchise in 1977. Their first home was Grant Park, which sat on the same site as their current home, Knology Park, built in 1990 and originally called - quite simply - Dunedin Stadium. In 2002, Dunedin spent $12 million on a new spring-training complex for the Blue Jays in an effort to convince them to stay in the city. It includes new training facilities, offices, new hitting cages, and five full fields at the Cecil P. Englebert Recreational Complex. The Dunedin Blue Jays Class A Advanced affiliate team play here during regular season.
- Philadelphia Phillies – Clearwater has long been the springtime home of the National League's Philadelphia Phillies. For years, the team warmed up for the regular season at Jack Russell Stadium, a much-revered ballpark that many were sad to see go. But their new stadium – Bright House Networks Field – is quite impressive. Families with kids like the grassy seating area and die-hard fans love the fact that the famous Jack Russell Stadium Tiki Bar made its way to the new park. The Minor League Clearwater Threshers play at Bright House Networks Field during the regular season.
- Pittsburgh Pirates – The Pirates practice their moves at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, a classic ballpark built in 1923. Located within a residential area of the city, this park has been the Pirate's home since 1969. Renovated in 1993, it now seats about 6,600 fans. About 1/3 of the seats are covered. The Pirates are the only team that plays here, so game viewing time is limited.
- Cincinnati Reds – Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota is the spring home of Cincinnati's major league team. It originally housed the Chicago White Sox but the Reds moved their operations here from Plant City in 1998 and have been practicing at this wonderful park ever since. A very modern stadium, it seats 7,500 fans and can accommodate 2,000 cars.
Some may be adverse to playing football in Florida's heat, but Tampa area fans are fiercely loyal to their local NFL team.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The NFL's 27th franchise, the Buccaneers have been thrilling fans since 1976. Winners of Super Bowl XXXVII, the Bucs have earned their good standing in the league.
The team plays at 65,000-seat Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Opened in 1998, it is a six-time winner of the "Best Field in the NFL" award and is slated to host the 2009 Super Bowl. A must see for visitors to the stadium is the $3 million pirate ship extravaganza dubbed "Buccaneer Cove" featuring lots of concessions and a 103-foot-long replica of an 1800s-era pirate ship.
- Tampa Bay Storm – The St. Pete Forum in the city of Tampa is home base for the Tampa Bay Storm, the five-time-champion arena football franchise that's gaining popularity in the area thanks to the team's excellent record. The team was established in 1991.
- Tampa Bay Lightning – The talented NHL Tampa Bay Lightning were the 2004 Stanley Cup champions. They practice at the St. Pete Times Forum, an attractive, state-of-the-art 20,000 seat arena that also hosts a variety of other special events year round, including arena football. It was originally opened in 1996 as the Ice Palace.