Spring Training 2008: The Cleveland Indians Say Good-Bye To Winter Haven, Fla.

Indians Are Moving To Goodyear, Arizona Next Spring

Saturday, March 22, 2008
- photo by Tim Evearitt

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- In less than a week, the Cleveland Indians will exit this quiet community of about 28,000 people, with their future Spring Training sights set on the greener pastures of Goodyear, Ariz.

As you pull into the heart of town Chief Wahoo's beaming face greets you from his water-tower perch.

That tower and that logo once served as a beacon leading baseball fans to Chain of Lakes Park, the Spring Training home of the Indians.

But over time, the Chief's once-vivid visage has faded in the Florida sun. No one has bothered to repaint it, because Wahoo's Winter Haven days are numbered.

Depending on your perspective, this is either cause for hoopla or heartache.

The majority of Indians players, coaches and front-office types are elated at the idea of training in a new facility in the travel-friendly confines of the Cactus League, and Winter Haven city officials are happy to recover land they feel is primed for retail and/or housing development.

But fans in Central Florida and Ohio snowbirds who make the roughly 17-hour drive to these parts each spring are distraught over the thought of the Tribe leaving town.

"I love the Cleveland Indians," says Winter Haven resident Sharon Kelley. "I'm going to be crushed."


The team arrived here not by choice but by the cruel hand dealt by Mother Nature.

In 1993, the Indians, who trained in Tucson, Ariz., from 1947-92, had plans to open a new facility in Homestead, Fla., on the southern tip of the state. But Hurricane Andrew, one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, washed away those hopes.

Suddenly homeless, the Indians turned to Winter Haven, which had just been abandoned by its long-time tenants, the Boston Red Sox.

It was to be a temporary arrangement. The Sox, after all, while beloved in this town, had left it for a reason. The Chain of Lakes facility was woefully out of date, even by the standards of '93. The Major League clubhouse, in particular, was in need of renovation.

The city, though, embraced the Indians. And the community was particularly helpful when the Tribe endured one of the franchise's darkest days.

On March 22, 1993 (the only off day in the Tribe's spring season) pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews were killed, and Bobby Ojeda was seriously injured in a boating accident on Little Lake Nellie in nearby Clermont.

A reminder of the tragedy still stands near the Chain of Lakes ticket offices, where two oak trees were planted in memory of Olin and Crews. A plaque marking the sad event rests near the trees. The Indians hope to move that plaque to the Heritage Park section of Progressive Field this year.


It's quirky, for sure, but training in Winter Haven does have its charms.

Players have certainly enjoyed the reasonable proximity to Disney World, where they can take their kids in their free time (and Spring Training offers plenty of it).

Fans, meanwhile, have enjoyed an accessibility that is increasingly rare in today's sporting world.

Hall of Famer Bob Feller plays catch near home plate before every home game, then trots out to the left-field concession area to sign autographs for hours at a time.

For those more interested in more current memorabilia, autographs can easily be snagged by the agility and practice fields that wrap around a 42-year-old stadium with some of the best sightlines in the game.


For years, it was no secret the Indians were looking for a new spring venue. Nor has it been a secret that city officials in Winter Haven would like to use the land occupied by Chain of Lakes for other purposes.

A half-hearted attempt to forge a deal to build a new complex in another part of town was made, but the city couldn't come up with complete funding and the Indians, following the path of others in the Majors, didn't want to put up a dime.

And as the fading paint on the Wahoo water tower illustrates, that end is fast approaching.
________
Adapted from MLB.com

Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven
Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven
- photo by Tim Evearitt

World Of Outlaw Late Models Adjusts June Schedule, Adding Tennessee Weekend

Dan Fleser: My Time With Johnny Majors

Vol Great Johnny Majors Dies At 85


With the ever-changing state-by-state COVID-19 regulations regarding the pandemic, the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series announced changes to the June calendar. Races scheduled ... (click for more)

By Dan Fleser KNOXVILLE – A football upset played out in total obscurity at Neyland Stadium on a chilly November evening in 1988. The surprise was orchestrated by Tennessee coach Johnny ... (click for more)

Johnny Majors, a star running back for the University of Tennessee who later coached the Vols for 15 years, has died a few days after his 85th birthday. His wife, Mary Lynn, said, "It's with ... (click for more)



Sports

World Of Outlaw Late Models Adjusts June Schedule, Adding Tennessee Weekend

With the ever-changing state-by-state COVID-19 regulations regarding the pandemic, the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series announced changes to the June calendar. Races scheduled for June 12-13 and June 18-20 are now postponed. In their place, a weekend doubleheader at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tn. has been added to the slate on Friday ($6,000 to win) and ... (click for more)

Dan Fleser: My Time With Johnny Majors

By Dan Fleser KNOXVILLE – A football upset played out in total obscurity at Neyland Stadium on a chilly November evening in 1988. The surprise was orchestrated by Tennessee coach Johnny Majors, who typically plied his trade before a large audience. In this case, yours truly was the lone witness. I was the only one who saw him bring a routine encounter, our first, to a conclusion ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Hamilton County Has 4th Coronavirus Death In 3 Days; State Records 13 New Deaths

There has been another coronavirus death in Hamilton County - the fourth in three days. The new total is 19. There were 56 new coronavirus cases in Hamilton County, bringing the total to 1,275. There are 15 patients in Intensive Care. The state reported 13 new deaths from the virus, bringing the total to 401. There were 298 new cases. That brings the total to 25,120. ... (click for more)

Man Arrested On Top Of Building Near Choo Choo With AR-15, AK-47 3 Loaded Handguns

A man was arrested Wednesday night on top of a downtown building armed with rifles and handguns. Police Chief David Roddy said Kevin Leiko was at 1417 Market St. across from the Chattanooga Choo Choo. He was found with an AR-15, and AK-47 and three loaded handguns. Leko, 35, resides at that address. Police acted on a tip that a man with a rifle was on a building along ... (click for more)

Opinion

It's About Time Riverbend Was Cancelled - And Response

Since its inception, Friends of the Festival seemed bound and determined to make Riverbend a national event, ignoring the opinions of many Chattanoogans. Riverbend started as a local event drawing on the tastes and desires of local citizens yet has devolved into an outrageously expensive, super-crowded two-week-long free-for-all. Riverbend has drastically deviated from its original ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Two Inches From Hell

By ordinary standards it might be best described as one of life’s worst 1-2 punches, a pair of hard, personal blows that drop you to your knees. True, each devastating blow was uncommonly back to back. But, no, when I learned Wednesday morning that college football icon Johnny Majors had died just some 48 hours after another legend, Auburn’s Pat Dye, it was as though I’d been hit ... (click for more)