The Lakeland Tigers of Lakeland, Florida, played a cumulative total of forty-two seasons in the Florida State League. For all of those years, they served as a Single-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.
The Lakeland Tigers first arrived on the scene in 1963, when the former Lakeland Giants switched their affiliation to Detroit and took on a COTOB identity. Images from this era are spotty at best, but it seems that Lakeland’s uniforms were unremarkable, and they had a simple block L for a cap logo. Lakeland played for only two years before winking out of existence for the 1965 season, when the FSL expanded by two and several affiliations changed. Their only notable alum in those first seasons was one who would go on to have a storied managing career–Jim Leyland. By ’67, the dust had settled in FSL, and Detroit once again booted up their Lakeland affiliate. For the rest of the sixties, the only notable player was Elliot Maddux, unless you count Leyland, a pure minor league player, cycling back to take some last-gasp hacks in ’69. This would not be his last trip to Joker Marchant Stadium.
At some unidentified point, whether in the late sixties or into the seventies, Lakeland sported a cap with a graceful cursive L, looping at both ends. Future big-league standouts who tucked their bountiful locks into these caps during the Me Decade included Mark “the Bird” Fidrych, Lance “Big Wheel” Parrish, “Sweet Lou” Whitaker, Howard “HoJo” Johnson, and Kirk “Kirk” Gibson. In ’76, Jim Leyland returned to manage the L-Tigers, a good thirty years before he skippered the parent club.
Things weren’t quite as interesting in the eighties, and the team’s branding reflected this. They went with plain black and white uniforms and a simple block L for cap and jersey logo. While the major league Tigers were busy ascending to the top of the baseball world, the minor league rosters were barren; with the one notable exception never playing a game for Detroit. In 1986, Hall-of-Famer John Smoltz climbed the mound in Lakeland–a year before his fateful trade to Atlanta.
Across the minors, the 1990s were a time of brand experimentation, and even a COTOB like Lakeland had some flourishes. In ’92 and ’93, their primary cap logo was the “roaring tiger” from Detroit’s primary logo at the time, which the MLB club never used on their caps. They also toyed around with the tiger hat on an alternate white cap. The lasting design came in 1994, when Lakeland created a version of Detroit’s D-with-tiger logo from that era, using an L instead.
The nineties was also a productive decade for ballplayer development, and those added to Lakeland’s alum list included Jose Lima, Tony Clark, Justin Thompson, Dave Roberts, Gabe Kapler, Phil Nevin, Francisco Cordero, and Fernando Rodney. In their last few years, in the aughts, the L-Tigers squeezed out some more future big-league notables, such as Omar Infante, Cody Ross, Curtis Granderson, Andrew Miller, and the great Justin Verlander.
When Detroit moved away from the tiger logo and returned to the simple old English D, Lakeland did not follow suit. They had something in mind that was a little more ambitious, a little more high-flying, if you will. After the 2006 season, their name was changed to the Lakeland Flying Tigers, and their branding aesthetic changed concurrently. The new DimDer identity alluded to local aviation/military history, and a series of new logos and uniform elements made the Lakeland roar with newfound autonomy. There are strong threads of continuity connecting today’s Flying Tigers with yesterday’s plain old Tigers, and one could make a strong case that the two are simply one team. However, by MLG standards, this was a fresh new identity, ready to take flight.