The words “fresh lemonade” bounce off the walls, hot dogs ooze with ketchup, the smell of sunscreen and fresh popcorn fill the air and you can hear the zing of each pitch no matter where you’re sitting.
It’s the time of year that baseball fans have been waiting all winter for, Spring Training.
Lakeland is the spring training home of the Detroit Tigers and on Thursday they played the Florida Southern Moccasins at Joker Marchant Stadium to open their spring season.
This tradition began in 1978 after Joker Marchant Stadium became the Tigers spring training home in 1966.
Fans of all ages waited in lengthy ticket lines and big smiles lit up their faces as the beep of the ticket scanner welcomed them into the stadium.
Fresh orange permeated the infield while bright green grass lay perfectly on the outfield. Some families lounged in left field on their blankets while hundreds of others took their seats in the grandstands.
The stadium was a sea of orange and navy blue until the Florida Southern students came pouring in for this afternoon filled with tradition and excitement.
Eighty-seven-degree weather and clear blue skies reveal that it is a perfect day for baseball.
Both teams slow to start, the game was locked with no score until the top of the fourth inning. Omar Villaman drew a two out walk and serval errors on account of the Tiger infield put the Mocs on the board with one run.
The Tigers couldn’t respond in the fourth, thanks to a stellar performance on the mound by the Moccasins starting pitcher Alex Kennell.
In the fifth inning, the Tigers got into a rhythm with their sticks and put themselves on the board. Leading the Mocs by two with the score after five innings of play showing 3-1.
Unfortunately, the Mocs could not reciprocate and failed to cross the plate any more during the match up. Several hits from the Tigers lineup in the eight-innings put the Tigers on top with a score of 6-1.
Ultimately, the Tigers were victorious claiming the game with a final score of 6-1.
While the score on the board reflected a loss, this game is an incredible experience for Florida Southern athletes. Getting the chance to step on a major-league field is unlike anything else.
Sophomore JJ Niekro knows the mound at Joker Marchant Stadium well. Last year he threw three innings in the annual game against the Tigers.
“It’s always a great time playing on an MLB field,” Niekro said. “The grass is immaculate and the mounds are perfect for us pitchers. Every detail is flawless from the actual field to the towels, sunflower seeds and wood bats they give us for the game. They treat us like major leaguers which is a dream for anyone.”
Niekro is in the starting rotation this season so he didn’t get a chance to touch the field at Thursday’s game, but the opportunity to learn from the best baseball players in the world is priceless.
“During batting practice many of the Tigers players come over and talk to us,” Niekro said. “They’re really nice about it and know that they were in our shoes at one point too. When our guys are on base they talk to the infielder too.”
The experience is a great one all the way around. Players, fans and employees all make memories in Tigertown that will last forever. In between innings spectators dance to the YMCA and sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Young kids participate in games for prizes on the field and everyone stretches during the seventh inning stretch.
A tradition that is sure to last for years, and a time where Mocs and Tigers fans alike can get together to watch one of America’s oldest pastimes, welcome back to Lakeland Tigers!