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Explore the History Behind Tampa's Cigar Capital of the World

By Marina I. Jokic

Ybor City was founded in 1885 by Vicente Martinez-Ybor and Ignacio Haya, both cigar manufacturers who were seeking a new hub for their business endeavors. The two purchased the land that is present-day Ybor City and established their operations, setting off an influx of other cigar factories into the area. The rapid spike in new industry and job growth were great incentives for immigrants from Cuba, Spain, Sicily, Romania and Germany. Each immigrant community contributed its own traditions, which would create the melting pot that is Ybor City today.

Some of the ways in which the city distinguishes itself is through its rich culinary traditions, multilingual and multicultural environment, and a distinctive architecture that borrows elements from other countries. Ybor City is also unique for the development of social clubs, known as mutual aid societies, that once provided a variety of social, civic, and medical services to the community and now work to preserve the ethnic traditions of Ybor City.

Another local organization working to preserve the cultural heritage of the neighborhood is the Ybor City Museum Society. Currently, the society is working on opening the Tampa Baseball Museum, which will be housed in the former home of Tampa's first Major League player, Al Lopez. "Tampa is recognized as a community that produces a large number of Major League players with nearly 80 MLB players having been groomed on the Little League and high school fields of Tampa," says Chantal Ruilova Hevia, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Ybor City Museum.

The Tampa Baseball Museum will explore the long history of baseball in the area which has yielded a series of leagues, teams, fields, youth programs, and coaches who put Tampa on the baseball map.

Exhibits will include an exploration of the earliest teams and leagues, including a number of local amateur leagues comprised of teams from the cigar factories and mutual aid societies of Ybor. The leagues of Tampa's African Americans and Afro-Cubans, who played during the era of segregation in baseball and during the Jim Crow Laws in the South, will have their own special exhibit. From these amateur leagues emerged Tampa's first professional team, the Tampa Smokers, and its first Major League player Al Lopez.

As Little League and high school programs emerged, the love of baseball fostered among Tampa's early immigrants cultivated young talent in the area. Al Lopez led the way to the Major Leagues for other famous players from Tampa including Wade Boggs, Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella, Dwight Gooden Tino Martinez, Gary Sheffield, Luis Gonzalez, and Fred McGriff. The Tampa Baseball Museum will open in late 2016 or early 2017.

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About The Author

Marina Jokic holds a bachelor's degree from Connecticut College in Russian and East...

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