Detroit Tigers’ spring training complex in Florida ‘escaped the wrath’ of Hurricane Ian

Detroit Free Press

Members of the Detroit Tigers spent the weekend assessing the damage from Hurricane Ian, which has killed dozen and left millions without power, at Joker Marchant Stadium and the team’s spring training complex in Lakeland, Florida.

Staffers cleaned up after the destructive Category 4 hurricane at the TigerTown grounds over the last four days. The Tigers’ facility sustained minor damages and will be fully operational for 2023 spring training.

“We certainly escaped the wrath of Ian,” Dan Lunetta, Tigers’ director of minor league operations, said Saturday afternoon. “The more images I see from Fort Myers and that area, the more I realize just how devastating this storm was and how fortunate we are.”

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As the hurricane headed toward Florida, the Tigers were hosting a one-week instructional camp, from Sept. 21-30, for more than 40 prospects, including soon-to-start Arizona Fall League prospects Parker Meadows, Colt Keith, Dillon Dingler, Gage Workman and Tyler Mattison.

All of the players and coaches were sent home early.

“First, you gotta tighten it up and button it down, making sure everything is put away, locked down and safe,” said Ron Myers, the Tigers’ director of Florida operations. “And then, you go through it. That wind and rain, it’s sideways and can knock you off your feet. I stayed at the stadium, and we did not lose power at the stadium.

“We were waiting. We were waiting for the toughest part, but we just got a lot of wind and a lot of rain. The people down in Fort Myers and Naples, we have a lot of friends down there. They’re wiped out. It’s really sad. It seems like they got hit and the rest of us got it easy.”

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On Wednesday, Hurricane Ian’s wind speeds came within 2 mph of Category 5 status (157 mph). The Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins, both stationed in Fort Myers, were hit hard by the storm. The Tampa Bay Rays don’t know if they can use their Port Charlotte complex for 2023 spring training.

The greatest impact in Lakeland, where the Tigers reside, occurred from 2-4:30 a.m. Thursday, with wind speeds over 50 mph and gusts as high as 80 mph.

“We’ve had some structural damage, but that has been fairly minor,” said Shawn Sherrouse, Lakeland’s city manager. “Our biggest issue is, here in Lakeland, we have our own electric utilities that we own and operate. We had 63,000 customers without power after the storm came through.”

As of Sunday morning, 11,000 customers remained powerless. The city expects full restoration by Tuesday.

Off Al Kaline Drive, the Tigers’ complex still stands. There wasn’t any flooding in the vicinity of the ballpark, despite heavy rainfall. The most noticeable damage is the torn-up stadium sign next to Lakeland Hills Boulevard. The batter’s eyes on Field 1 and Field 3, part of the minor-league complex, also need to be replaced, along with the dugout coverings on all four backfields. The chain-link fence near the bullpens came down, too, and the old minor-league clubhouse suffered roof damage.

“But that really was the extent of it,” Lunetta said. “There’s a lot of limbs and branches spread about, which is common in these kinds of storms. But the damage that we sustained, comparatively speaking, is minor.”

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In the aftermath of the storm, the city of Lakeland assumed control of the Tigers’ dormitory and cafeteria. The main administrative building was used as a shelter for Tigers staff and their families, along with some residents evacuated from nearby cities. There were about 50 people sheltering.

The minor-league dormitory housed approximately 150 first responders from Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi. They arrived in town to restore power in Lakeland and the surrounding area. From Thursday through Saturday, the city served over 2,600 meals in the Tigers’ cafeteria.

The Tigers have maintained their spring training relationship with Lakeland since 1934.

“We’re very appreciative of what the city of Lakeland does, not only for us but for the community,” Lunetta said. “We have a tremendous relationship with the city of Lakeland, and we can’t say enough good things about how that relationship works, especially in times of difficulty like this.”

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