Flashback: The Grapefruit League's Heaviest Hitter

February 17, 2014 | by juliet izon | Talk of the Town

The world was watching when Babe Ruth traveled to the Sunshine State for spring training in 1920, and continues to watch year after year for Florida’s Grapefruit League.

The Grapefruit League With the famed “Bambino” (LEFT) swinging in Florida in 1920, baseball aficionados knew they were witnessing history. Ruth did not disappoint: Papers reported him smashing “two-milers,” one even landing in the lap of a lucky young fan sitting on the right-field fence.

Babe Ruth may be practically synonymous with New York City, but there’s no doubt that Florida holds a place of honor in the slugger’s personal history. In fact, it was just months after the famed trade from the Boston Red Sox that Ruth suited up in the familiar Yankees pinstripes during spring training in the Sunshine State in 1920. With his powerful grip on the bat and a packed stadium surrounding him, it’s easy to imagine the deafening roar of the crowd as Ruth struck another one out of the park.

The Grapefruit League, as the March preseason games are known, has been a South Florida institution since 1888. This 2014 season, Florida will be the temporary home to 15 Major League Baseball teams warming up for opening day, from Port St. Lucie (the New York Mets) to Tampa (the Yankees), Jupiter (St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins), and everywhere in between.

It’s also not a bad place to settle once you put the bat and ball down. In his later years, after cementing his reputation as baseball’s prodigal son, Ruth still found reason to return to the balmy weather and respite that Florida afforded him. It was in Miami, at the Golden Strand Hotel and Villas, where he chose to recuperate from his third cancer operation in 1948. “I think I’ll feel better after I get some of this sun,” he told reporters at the time. To celebrate his 53rd birthday (which unfortunately would be his last), the hotel even whipped up a birthday cake and invited children staying at the property to celebrate with the legend. We’re sure it was a home-run celebration.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA, FLORIDA MEMORY

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