Joker Marchant Stadium – Lakeland Flying Tigers

by | Jun 21, 2016 | Baseball, Jim Dietrich, MiLB |

Fanfare Score

Total Score
3.86

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An Officer and a Gentleman of a Park

What do you do when the Army builds a pilot training ground for the soon-to-be-war effort in 1940, and by the ’60s, it’s no longer needed? Instead of leaving it to rot, turn it over to the “Great American Institution” of baseball, of course.

Opened in 1940, an airfield was built as a school for up-and-coming pilots in the then-Army (the Air Force wasn’t a separate branch until 1947), and it would eventually be called Lodwick Field. Complete with barracks and training buildings, it reached its fullest potential during World War II and was running at full capacity through its end in 1945.

Once the war ended, the barracks starting going dark. However, instead of mothballing them as the Army tends to do, the Detroit Tigers  (who moved into the city for spring training in 1936 and played at Henley Park in downtown) approached them and asked if they could use those barracks and open spaces attached for their spring training facilities. Permission was granted, and the newly-christened “Tigertown” was opened in 1953. Everything the team needed from lodging to a cafeteria and recreation area was right there at their disposal.

All except a main stadium, that is. The team still played their games in Henley Park, away from Tigertown.

Eventually, the entire airbase was closed in 1960, and the city was more-than-glad to give it to the Tigers, who built Joker Marchant Stadium, named from the offset after the longtime Lakeland Parks and Recreation Director that made the Tigers’ stay here possible. The stadium was only closed for one year since, in 2002, to allow for the renovations seen today; teams played at a newly-rehabilitated Henley Park once more to allow work to proceed unimpeded.

Started in 1963 in anticipation of having the new home, the Lakeland Tigers (whose name was changed to “Flying Tigers” in 2006 in honor of all the aviation history both at the site and in Lakeland as a whole) have been the only Florida State League affiliate the Tigers have known in their tenure in Lakeland, having won the league championship four times: 1976, 1977, 1992, and 2012.

Food & Beverage 4

There are a few stands available, though not as many as probably should have been, given the never-ending queues throughout the game.

They were worth the wait, though, as the food was quite good and pretty varied: cold Dietz & Watson sandwiches, burgers, a “torpedo dog” (a footlong with chili and cheese), and even nachos supreme.

The best thing is, though, are the prices. The items themselves are a tad above-averagely priced, but they offer “value meals” – a rarity I haven’t found yet in my FSL travels – consisting of a few different sandwiches (I got a “Hangar Burger”, a quarter-pound burger with the fixings) and got a 16 ounce drink and small bag of chips for only $2 more, cheaper than the price of that drink alone.

Atmosphere 5

If you’re not even marginally-proud to be American, not only should you probably stay away from baseball (and maybe even apple pie) in general, but definitely keep your distance from Joker Marchant.

Thanks to the aforementioned history of the site, the theme is mainly military and specifically Air Force interspersed with typical Floridian Mediterranean flair. There are three (!) tiger mascots, and one of them wears a WWII fighter pilot’s jacket. Some of the food kiosks have camouflage motifs and military-named food. There’s even an “Officers’ Club” for groups of 25 or more.

Due to the renovation in 2002, everything still feels new, even with all the history the stadium exudes. The video scoreboard in right is large and easy to read, the audio is loud and clear, and being located halfway between Interstate 4 and downtown Lakeland makes it about as centrally-located as you can make it.

Here’s an interesting fact-of-note: there is a tiny scoreboard in left-center that shows the inning and score, but nothing more. Upon researching, that was installed in 2005 when, after Hurricane Charley came through the area and damaged the newly-renovated stadium, the replacement main video scoreboard almost arrived late for the first spring training game, so the city installed it as a contingency. It wasn’t needed, as the replacement to the damaged board arrived a few days before, but the small “Plan B” board wasn’t removed.

Neighborhood 3

Immediately surrounding Tigertown, there’s Lake Parker to the east, residential to the east, and less-than-a-five minute drive to both U.S. Route 98 and downtown Lakeland, the two areas full of restaurants, shops, bars, and things-to-do. It’s not quite walkable to those places, but you’re definitely not in the middle of nowhere.

Fans 5

So, I turn into the Tigertown entrance and there’s a large open field on the right as the entrance road itself is lined with banyan trees with Spanish moss hanging from them. People were parking in that field, yes, but something else I never expected was happening: they were tailgating.

At a minor league baseball game.

Like, REAL tailgating, complete with grills, cornhole, and kids playing catch.

The last time I saw tailgating of any kind in my reviews were Tropicana Field, Raymond James Stadium, and the FAU Arena. Therefore, I don’t think anything else needs to be said about the fans, as that’s a new level of awesome I had yet to see on my trip around the FSL.

Access 4

Getting to the stadium is very easy, as it’s well-signed throughout town, and being on a good-sized, four-lane road helps with ingress and egress.

That parking lot where they were blowing my mind and thinking I walked into a football game instead is – lo and behold! – free.

(For those keeping track at home, the Florida State League’s western teams are split as follows:

– Four free parking: FAE Stadium, McKechnie Field, Steinbrenner Field, and Joker Marchant Stadium; and

– Three paid parking: Spectrum Field, Charlotte Sports Park, and Hammond Stadium.)

There is an overabundance of parking spaces, both on concrete and in the grassy field, so you should never have a problem finding a place for your car.

Once inside, the bathrooms are right-sized and clean, but the corridors are kind of narrow, and when they were wide, supporting pillars got in the way, so it felt tighter than it was, and caused issues with the long food queues. The lone point off is for that fact.

Return on Investment 3

It’s a great stadium with a good amount of features, and for a measly $6-$9, you can sit in most places and have a great time. Factor in food (and free parking), and you’re talking $40-$50 for a family of four. Not too bad for a great night under the stars and lights.

Extras 3

Worth mentioning again is the awesome military motif. Seen everywhere, you leave just feeling a tad more patriotic, especially when you know the meaning behind it isn’t just a recent push to give thanks to our brothers and sisters overseas, but something 60+ years in the making for Lakeland and the Tigers’ organization as a whole.

Another plus is the large berm in left field. Complete with trellises and picnic tables, it’s a great place to watch the game. As a supporter of such activities, one could just kick off their shoes and watch the game with the grass beneath their toes and be more comfortable than sitting in otherwise-comfortable seats.

Also available are a large number of seats for a small party (six) and the previously-mentioned Officers’ Club. Get a group of 25 or more, and you get all-you-can-eat-and-drink (no alcohol) with a great view of the field and with a roof to keep the sun off you at all times.

Final Thoughts

The Tigers’ and city of Lakeland’s relationship extends past 75 years, with almost 50 of those years providing summer ball from the Flying Tigers. The house that was built out of this arrangement is an obvious labor of love, not only for the team, but for also the previous occupants of the acreage, the United States Air Force. Every small detail, from the Detroit diner-styled food kiosk under the overflow bleachers to the “P-47 Thunderbolt”-inspired logo, invoke the past of both the team and the city.

Not lost in this ode to history are all the modern touches one expects in MiLB stadiums of today: video scoreboards, a variety of food choices, and plenty of in-game entertainment. A visit to Joker Marchant Stadium is a special experience, one that will have you leaving feeling complete and satisfied. If you’re ever in or around Lakeland (it’s only 40 minutes from Disney) you must put a game here on your to-do list.

 

 

Food and Drink Recommendations

Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille

101 N Kentucky Ave

Lakeland, FL 33801

(863) 686-2228

http://hookedonharrys.com/


Molly McHugh’s Irish Pub

111 S Kentucky Ave

Lakeland, FL 33801

(863) 686-6231

http://mollymchughs.com/


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Entertainment Recommendations

Circle B Bar Reserve

4399 Winter Lake Rd

Lakeland, FL 33803

(863) 534-7377

https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/recreation/areas/circlebbarreserve.html


Lake Mirror Complex

121 S. Lake Ave

Lakeland, FL 33801

(863) 834-2280

https://www.lakelandgov.net/departments/parks-recreation/lake-mirror-complex/


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Lodging Recommendations

 

La Quinta Inn & Suites Lakeland East

4315 Lakeland Park Dr

Lakeland, FL 33809

(863) 815-0606

http://www.laquintalakelandeast.com/?cid=local_4036


 

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Lakeland North – I-4

4500 Lakeland Park Dr

Lakeland, FL 33809

(863) 595-4500

https://www.ihg.com/holidayinnexpress/hotels/us/en/lakeland/lalld/hoteldetail


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Stadium Info

Joker Marchant Stadium

2301 Lakeland Hills Blvd

Lakeland, FL 33805

Lakeland Flying Tigers website

Joker Marchant Stadium website

Year Opened: 1966

Capacity: 8,500

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