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Official Review by Aaron Hotelling, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
While Joker Marchant Stadium underwent a $36 million dollar makeover, the Lakeland Flying Tigers (Detroit Tigers High-A affiliate in the Florida State League) spent the entirety of their season at historic Henley Field in 2016.
Built in 1922, the 1,000 seat stadium was the smallest sized venue in minor league baseball in 2016. It returned the Flying Tigers back to their previous home, having called the park home on several occasions (1960, 1962-1965, 2002) during its 57 year history in the league.
It is the former spring training home for the Cleveland Indians (1924-1927), Detroit Tigers (1934-1942, 1946-1965), and the Lakewood High School baseball program. It is the current home to the 9-time national baseball champion Florida Southern College.
Walking into Henley Field is like stepping back in time; it looks like something out of the movies. In fact, it was used in the 1987 HBO film "Long Gone," about a 1950s minor league baseball team. In spite of the nearly 100 years that this stadium has been used, recent updates (including $10 million in 2002) have kept it a comfortable place to watch a game.
The stadium has modern conveniences and is a great place for baseball and history lovers, but the pageantry and frills available at many other venues in this division will not be found here.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
If you need great variety, this is not the place for you, but you won't go hungry. For the most part, the food consists of ballpark basics but done well without being overpriced. The vendors are friendly, experienced, and helpful. In fact, one of the vendors is retired from managing concessions at both an MLB and an NFL stadium.
Because this stadium is a temporary home, there is a limited menu. The staples expected in baseball - hot dogs, peanuts, Cracker Jacks, and popcorn - are all available, as well as other items. The BBQ nachos cost $7 (the most expensive food on the menu), but are of great value. They are plentifully topped with pulled pork, cheese, and jalapeńos, and the barbecue sauces on the condiment stand provide the customers the right amount to pour on their nachos.
To drink, the stadium offers Pepsi products, Gatorade, coffee, and beer. The beer selection is small, but includes some ballpark favorites such as Bud Light and Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, as well as the popular Yuengling from Pottstown, Pennsylvania.
The food here has a traditional variety, but it is done well and at a reasonable price. One can enjoy both beer and soft drinks either by the bottle or from the tap or fountain.
The stadium is built in the Spanish colonial revival style that is prevalent in central Florida; it welcomes you with palm trees on either side of the walkway and an arched entryway and a red clay tile roof. As you enter the stadium behind the first base line near home plate, you have your choice of bench seats on either side extending to first and third base. These metal seats have backs and are curved so as to be ergonomic. In addition, the seats are all covered by the roof of the stadium shading the fans from the hot Florida sun.
There is another small set of bleachers on the left field side just past the visitor's dugout as well as a few benches and tables near the concessions which are also located on the left field side. All of the seats are close to the action, and with the few fans in attendance, you have your choice of seats.
During the game, there are very few interruptions. There are no mascots, and music is only played over the PA while the home team comes to the box and a little before the game. The PA announcer does a nice job, and everything is at a volume loud enough to be heard without being too loud.
The National anthem is played from a recording and not performed live. There are a few games between innings in which they brought kids onto the field to compete for some small prizes, but if you were not there for the baseball, you were in the wrong place.
When watching the game from the first row of bleachers, just on the third base side of home plate, the view is great for the action on the field. However, it can get quite balmy after a while, because the roof and other seats block the little bit of breeze that comes through the grandstand.
The bench right next to the visitors dugout along the third base line also provides shade from the roof and a breeze. The only drawback to this seat might be the foul language of the visiting team's manager, especially during our visit (he was ejected from the game).
Lakeland is a city of approximately 100,000 people and has quite a few hotels, restaurants, and attractions. There are not a lot of options immediately surrounding the stadium, but the city is easy to navigate and there are many places to stay and dine. Lakeland has many parks and lakes with walking trails, fishing, and boating. There are also museums, a nature preserve, and events of all kinds.
The city is also located less than an hour drive from Orlando, making a Lakeland Flying Tigers game a perfect escape from the busy parks for the baseball loving family on vacation. This is not a stadium for the person who wants to walk to dinner or the hotel after the game, but the accessibility and attractions within a short drive are plentiful.
There were only about 100 fans in attendance on the game of this review, at a stadium that seats 1,000 fans. The people of Florida are missing a wonderful opportunity to see baseball played at a high level at a price that is hard to beat. After speaking with employees and season ticket holders at the game, it was discovered that the small crowd is unfortunately the norm. The crowd in attendance is into the game, and there were fans from both sides. Exciting plays are met with enthusiasm, but players of this level deserve a bigger crowd.
Henley Field provides a rather easy and inexpensive access for customers. Lakeland is a small city with some traffic, but it flows smoothly. There is a stop on the local bus route near the stadium, but driving to the stadium is quite easy.
One advantage to the small crowds is parking. There is plenty of parking in the lot and one can park right in front of the stadium if desired. Stadium security is on hand to stop traffic for fans crossing the street, and it's easy to get in and out of the lot.
Thanks to the small crowds and friendly staff, getting through the stadium's single gate is quick and easy. Once through the gates, it is quite easy to move around the stadium and the field is visible from almost everywhere. The restrooms are clean, modern, and feature a small mural of some of the 1936-37 Tigers on the wall. There is handicap accessible parking right next to the stadium's gate, ample seating in the front row, and a ramp from the seating area to the concession area.
For a baseball lover, this stadium is an excellent value. The tickets are less than $5, parking is free, and the food and drink prices are quite reasonable. There is not a bad seat in the house and the souvenir program is only $2. There are no frills, but you are seeing baseball played at a very high level in a clean and comfortable stadium. The stadium employees make sure that every kid in attendance leaves with a game ball.
There are not a lot of extras in this stadium, but the friendly, experienced staff and their attention to guests, especially the kids, merit two points in this category.
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5675 New Tampa Hwy
Lakeland, FL 33801
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260 Us Highway 98 N
Lakeland, FL 33801
4375 Lakeland Park Dr
Lakeland, FL 33809