Florida Sports Hall of Fame open doors in Port St. Lucie on Thursday

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This Dick Howser display is one of the many that will be showcased at the new home of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame Foundation in Port St. Lucie.

Rick Hatcher had the privilege of playing baseball at Florida State University in 1979 under manager Dick Howser.

Howser, who had been a part of the 1977 and ’78 coaching staffs for the World Series champion New York Yankees, decided to come home to his alma mater to be the baseball coach.

It only lasted one season — Howser returned to the Yankees in 1980 to be their manager — but Hatcher was there at FSU to learn from a baseball mind that had not only coached with the champion Yankees, but who had also played eight years in the big leagues.

So it only makes sense that Hatcher’s favorite display at the Florida Sports Hall of Fame would be one involving Howser.

“The bust of him is in Florida State jacket and hat,” said Hatcher, the President and CEO of Treasure Coast Sports Tourism and the vice president of the board of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame. “That’s my personal favorite.”

Beginning Thursday, the Howser bust and dozens of other displays will be showcased when the Florida Sports Hall of Fame Foundation opens at its new location at the MIDFLORIDA Event Center, located at 9221 Southeast Event Center Place in Port St. Lucie.

The Hall of Fame has relocated from the Central Florida Visitor Information Center in Davenport.

“It’s a great addition to the city,” Hatcher said. “It’s memorializes sports greats with ties to Florida whether they played here collegiately, professionally or coached here. It runs the gamut of sports personalities here in Florida.”

Last year the Port St. Lucie City Council approved a five-year lease agreement with the foundation authorizing use of up to 1,800 square feet in the event center.

According to its website, https://flasportshof.org, the Hall of Fame attracted roughly 50,000 visitors each year to Davenport.

“It’s hard to gauge what the numbers will be like at the MIDFLORIDA Event Center,” Hatcher said. “The economic impact is hard to put a figure on. We think it’s something folks will take advantage of when in town for other events, sporting or leisure.”

Currently 273 members are in the Florida Sports Hall of Fame. Some of the more notable athletes include Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow, Gino Torretta, Danny Wuerffel and Charlie Ward, NFL Hall of Famers Bob Griese, Emmitt Smith and Dan Marino, baseball Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Ted Williams, golf legends Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, coaching greats Bobby Bowden and Steve Spurrier, wrestling icon Hulk Hogan and many more.

Memorabilia includes items from NASCAR drivers Bobby and Donnie Allison, National Hot Rod Association legend “Big Daddy’ Don Garlits, golfer Doug Sanders, tennis player Chris Evert and more.

The displays includes photos, videos, uniforms, apparel, sports equipment, trophies and more, all in a new 1,500-square foot preview center.

The Florida Sports Hall of Fame was founded by the Florida Sports Writers Association and the Florida Sportscasters Association in 1961. The first class of six was inducted in 1961.

The Florida Sports Hall of Fame is well traveled over its 60 years of existence. Its first home was at Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven in 1977. It then moved north to Lake City followed by Auburndale and then Davenport.

Thursday’s events kick off at 5 p.m. After speeches and appearances by some special guests — some already in the Florida Sports Hall of Fame — doors will open to the public at 6 p.m. and the Hall will be open for the evening until 7.

After Thursday’s special event, the time and days of operation are Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“It’s here for at least five years, we hope longer,” Hatcher said. “We anticipate great benefit to Port St. Lucie, the MIDFLORIDA Event Center and the Hall of Fame.”

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