LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Local businesses, fans, and part-time stadium workers are fearing disputes between Major League Baseball players and team owners will get in the way of the much-anticipated spring training games.
“It’s very important to the local area, to the community, to the city of Lakeland, local donations to the churches, just an overall bonus to Lakeland,” said Delicia “Dee” Ebare, owner of Charlie’s Family Restaurant by Dee.
Her restaurant sits just down the road from Tigertown, home of Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. It is where the Detroit Tigers have held spring training for decades.
Ebare says local businesses surrounding the stadium benefit from the tourists who come for the games with her restaurant seeing a 25-30% boost in sales.
“It was kind of out of left field, you could say, after COVID,” she said. “I think it’s gonna hurt the local community. Everybody expects that as kind of a bonus and with COVID we really haven’t had what we’ve had in the previous years.”
All Major League Baseball players, were supposed to begin reporting to spring training this week prior to the lockout. Michigan resident Ben Benson came to Tigertown to see if any players would be at the stadium.
“It’s really disappointing and the reason I came here – to see how much life is here. Is the lockout real?” he asked.
As he found out, it is.
For the first time since the mid-1990’s, MLB team owners have locked out their 40-man roster players over collective bargaining, causing a months-long work stoppage.
Minor league players and non-roster invitees can report to spring training with their mini-camp beginning tomorrow.
With these players, coaches and staff, Lakeland will still see an influx of hundreds of people.
But if the 40-man roster players cannot play, it will affect the spring training games that are set to begin later this month.
“We were so looking forward to this, having a full stadium again, we were excited. Our city’s excited. The Tigers were excited,” said Bob Donohay, Lakeland’s park and recreation director.
Donohay met with the Detroit Tigers staff for two hours on Tuesday. The team will share information with the city as the lockout progresses. Spring training generates $55 million for the local economy.
“We lose the fans. If we don’t have games, we lose fans. A lot of people that would come to Lakeland to stay in our hotels, our restaurants, those people won’t be coming,” he said.
Donohay says the many of people who work at the concessions, take tickets and work parking are retired and not only take advantage of the extra money, but they look forward to the games every year.
If the lockout is lifted, the Tigers will host an exhibition game on Feb. 25 with opening day against the Washington Nationals scheduled for Feb. 26.