Al Lang Stadium: Perry Van der Beck

October 4, 2013 | South Tampa Magazine | Categories: Editorial, Field of Dreams, Sports | Tags: al lang stadium, On the field: Perry Van der Beck

Once a spring training hub for Major League Baseball, Al Lang is the home of the Tampa Bay Rowdies professional soccer team

Name: Progress Energy Park
Namesake: Al Lang served at the St. Petersburg mayor from 1916-1920 and is credited with making the city the birthplace of spring training
Location: 1st Street SE, St. Petersburg
Year Built: 1977
Capacity: 7,000 (estimated)
History: Al Lang Stadium replaced Al Lang Field, which was built in 1947 and served as the spring training headquarters for teams such as the Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals and later, the Tampa Bay Rays. Legends such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial played at the stadium. In 2008, the Rays vacated the stadium and moved to Port Charlotte for spring training.
Current Use: The Tampa Bay Rowdies made a triumphant return to the professional soccer in 2010, bringing back an organization that was first founded in 1975. The team moved from Legends Field in Tampa to Al Lang Stadium, a site where they would be the primary user of the grounds.

What a block!

What a block!

An interview with a Tampa Bay Rowdies legend

How did you get into soccer?
I grew up in St. Louis, which has always been a hotbed for soccer. In 1976 during my senior year of high school, I got an opportunity to play with the United States youth team and I played with them until 1978 in several international tournaments. At the time, I was the youngest American born player in the league.

How did you end up with the Rowdies?
When I was playing in France, one of the scouts for the Tampa Bay Rowdies scouted me. I signed with the team on June 1, 1978 and played here six seasons—both indoor and outdoor—all the way up until the NASL folded in 1984.

When did you come back to the team’s front office?
I became the community relations person for the Tampa Bay Mutiny, then became the assistant coach and during the final seasons, the head coach. In 2008, I was interviewed for a job as the technical director for the re-born Tampa Bay Rowdies. That’s my title now.

How did the Rowdies end up at Al Lang Stadium?
We’re a professional team and we wanted a professional atmosphere. We were at Steinbrenner Field (Legends Field) for a while but they have a minor league baseball team that we had to work with and so there were restrictions on what we could do. We had the opportunity to come look at Al Lang Stadium and were offered our own stadium. You’re in a downtown setting, which is great. Our games have a great atmosphere and great fans.

Perry Van der Beck

Perry Van der Beck

How have the fans responded to being in a reconfigured baseball stadium?
If you see this on game day, we do a good job of making it look nice. Our fans sing behind the goal and sing the entire game like they do in Europe. It’s a great atmosphere and it continues to grow every season.

What’s the best seat in the house?
I would think the third base sideline or the field-side seats. Behind the field boards, we have single chair seats that fans can buy.

What’s the biggest change with the Rowdies from when you played to now?
To put things in perspective, I came out of high school in 1978 to play professional soccer and Tampa Bay didn’t offer high school soccer until 1980. So rain or shine, win or lose, those fans were behind us. Today, we have a lot of international players who have played at a high level. On any given day, we can play with the best teams in the country.

Ball and CleatsWhat’s the best stadium you’ve ever played in?
As far as atmosphere, I’d say Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands. We had a game once with 78,000 fans. In terms of the Rowdies, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers have always been a rival. The Portland Timbers have an amazing atmosphere as well.

Do you have a least favorite stadium?
When I played for the U.S. national teams, it was always an experience playing against the South American teams. Their fans take it to heart and they’ll do whatever it takes to throw you off your game.