Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Crist Goes To Bat For Florida Baseball

Governor Launches Spring Training Season

ST. PETERSBURG – Governor Charlie Crist, continuing his commitment to strengthening Florida's economy, will applaud Major and Minor League baseball's economic contributions to the Sunshine State when he launches the 2009 spring training baseball season this evening by hosting the Governor's Baseball Dinner in St. Petersburg.

The event, restored in 2008 by Governor Crist after more than a decade, will honor Florida's two Major League Baseball clubs, 14 other Major League clubs who train in Florida, and the 29 Minor League clubs who play throughout the spring and summer.  More than 200 representatives from these clubs will join with 500 fans and sponsors at St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

"These baseball teams are a major part of Florida's economy, and a major part of our $36-billion-year sports industry," said Governor Crist. "Spring training alone generates more than $450 million a year in Florida. During historic economic times like what we now face, it is more important than ever that we support and build on successful industries like baseball."

Featured at the dinner will be seven members of the Baseball Hall of Fame: Wade Boggs of Tampa, who played for the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays; former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts; Al Kaline, longtime right fielder for the Detroit Tigers; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski; Tony Perez, who played for the Cincinnati Reds, Montreal Expos, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies; Mike Schmidt, third baseman for the Phillies; and Phil Niekro, who spent most of his 24-year career with the Atlanta Braves.

The dinner will also feature a salute to Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. The longtime player for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves made history nearly 35 years ago when he hit his record 715th home run on April 8, 1974, beating the home-run record long held by Babe Ruth.

Veteran Houston Astros broadcaster Milo Hamilton, a member of the broadcasters' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, will serve as the event's Master of Ceremonies.  He will interview Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Philadelphia Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel about the 2008 World Series. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig will offer remarks about baseball and its more than century-long history in Florida. Commissioner Selig will join Governor Crist in presenting a check to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the official charity of Major League Baseball.

The Grapefruit League, the term used to describe Florida spring training games, generates more than $450 million for the Florida economy each year, according to a survey originally published in 2000 and updated in 2005.  In 2008, more than 1.6 million baseball fans attended a spring training game in Florida, while another 1.4 million attended Minor League games during the spring and summer of 2008.

On Wednesday, Governor Crist will throw out the ceremonial first pitch in the 2009 Spring Training opener between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee.

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