As we were going to press with this issue on Monday afternoon, the Orlando City Council held a debate about the future of Tinker Field, the historic baseball field near downtown Orlando named after baseball Hall of Famer Joe Tinker. The fate of the long-neglected field where Martin Luther King Jr. made his one and only appearance in Orlando in 1964 has been in question since last year, when the city announced that it would be demolished when the Citrus Bowl was renovated – but public outcry saved the field from the wrecking ball, at least for a while. For months, nobody in the city would say definitively whether it would be rejuvenated or relegated to the scrap heap of history. Until this week.
On Monday, March 9, the City Council passed an ordinance that declares the field a historic place; it will be restored, repaired and maintained “to support the continued vitality of Tinker Field as a public open space.” The ordinance allows the field to be used for festivals, concerts and “other temporary and periodic public uses.”
It’s unclear how much of the field or its grandstands could be preserved, but the field will probably be used primarily for special events like the Electric Daisy Carnival, which is held there annually already.
But not everybody likes that idea – some who spoke before the council suggested the field be refurbished and used for baseball again. They came before the council with stories of playing and working at Tinker Field when it was still relevant, and called on the council to respect its place in baseball and civil rights history.
The hearing went long, with speakers telling the council about their personal connections to the field – one man with a walker recalled how he used to work for the Minnesota Twins and worked at the field when he first came to Orlando. “I came here in 1955, made $55 a week, slept in the clubhouse,” he said. Another man said he remembers running to the field every day after school and wants the city to beautify it and maintain it as a baseball memorial.
Some, including Commissioner Patty Sheehan, suggested that the city preserve parts of the field – at least the grandstands – and that “the cost of preservation should never be a consideration.”
Commissioner Sam Ings, however, was all or nothing – he wants the field to be preserved for its original use only: “It’s time for baseball to be back at Tinker Field,” he said. “Let’s go out to a baseball game again.”
But in the end, the council voted 4-3 to approve the ordinance before it – while Tinker Field won’t be demolished, as people had feared it would be for the past year or so, it probably won’t see another baseball game played on its diamond again.