Upon his death, Al Lopez was heralded as a source of pride to a generation of Tampa Latinos. Born to immigrant Spanish parents in 1908, the Ybor City native played 19 years in the Major Leagues for four teams: Brooklyn Robins/Dodgers, Boston Bees, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Cleveland Indians. He was the first ballplayer from to make it to the Major Leagues. In 1951, he became manager of the Cleveland team, a job he held for five years. In 1959, he led the Chicago White Sox to the American League pennant. Following his retirement, Lopez was elected the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. Despite all his accomplishments and accolades on the field, his obituary emphasized the impact he had to on Tampa’s Latin-American community. For many lamenting the loss of the baseball icon, Lopez signified a way in which a poor immigrant from Tampa could prosper on skill alone. Pointing to a black and white picture of cigar workers, one funeral-goer stated that: “He represented all you wanted to be – all you could be – in the Hispanic community.”
Al Lopez represented the second generation of Tampans, the sons and daughters of immigrants. His father worked in a cigar factory in Cuba before immigrating to Tampa. At a young age, however, Lopez declared to never work in a cigar factory. “I hated them,” he said, “I vowed never to work in one.” Instead of following in his father’s line of work, Lopez focused on playing baseball at a young age. It was while growing up in Ybor City that Lopez, like many other immigrants, began playing and enjoying baseball. When reminiscing about his youth, Lopez stated: “I think that we enjoyed our boyhood an awful lot…You could go not too far from where you were and you could build up your own baseball diamond. We used to build our own baseball diamond, put the bases down, and make our own baseball diamond in any couple of open field that we had.”
After reaching the Major Leagues in 1928, and throughout his baseball career, Lopez kept ties to the city of Tampa and its immigrant community. So much so that, in 1954, the city dedicated its new ballpark to Lopez. Named after Lopez, Al Lopez Field replaced Plant Field as the city’s baseball stadium. The stadium was originally the home for the Chicago White Sox spring training and the Tampa Tarpons – the city’s minor league team. The stadium opened on March 10, 1955. That afternoon, the Chicago White Sox defeated the Cincinnati Reds in front 3,025 fans. After taking the job as manager of the White Sox in 1957, Lopez had the distinction of coaching in a stadium named after him. During one spring training game in 1957, Lopez was ejected after arguing with an umpire. Following the game, Lopez was quoted as saying: “The umpire threw me out of my own ballpark!” The stadium was eventually demolished in 1989. Yet, in 1992, the city again dedicated the space to the memory of Al Lopez. On October 3, 1992, A statute and plaque were dedicated at the new Al Lopez park.