The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 1926, so it was with much excitement in Avon Park when the tiny “scenic ridge” town was announced as their spring home. The Red Birds signed a three-year contract to play at Avon Park’s newly constructed Cardinal Field.
It is now called Head Field, named for businessman Charles R. Head who was a driving force in building the stadium and convincing the Cardinals to call Avon Park their February and March home.
For those three years, the city was alive with baseball fever. For some games, the attendance was higher than the population of Avon Park. The Cardinals were in their golden years, with players like Grover Alexander, Chick Hafey, Frankie Frisch, Bob O’Farrell, Jim Bottomley, Pepper Martin, and Firpo Marbery.
Their greatest rivals were the Yankees, who bested the Cardinals in the 1928 World Series. The Yankees visited Avon Park several times, bringing legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. On March 16, 1928, the Yankees played the Cards at Head Field; Babe Ruth smashed a home run that landed in the street, reportedly later renamed Ruth Street in his honor. The game was attended by 5,000 people, who never stopped retelling the story for the rest of their lives.
Despite the love shown by folks on the Ridge, at the end of the agreement, the Cardinals flew off to Bradenton. Owner Sam Breadon blamed inadequate hotel facilities (not helped by the Avon Park Hotel burning down in 1927) and poor conditions on the field. Avon Park’s mayor C. S. Donaldson shot back in October 1929, calling the owner’s accusations bogus.
“We have five excellent hotels, three of which attract a wealthy tourist trade. We have a completely clayed, five-acre playing field with infield grassed, which incidentially was built under the personal supervision of the Cardinals groundsdkeeper last winter, also a concrete grandstand, modern clubhouse with hot and cold shows and lockers.”
No matter, the deal was done. After first considering San Diego, the Cardinals opted to move to Bradenton. The Manatee County city had been their home from 1923-1924 and was where Breadon had a large estate and avocado groves. They played in Bradenton from 1930 until 1936, winning another World Series in 1931.