Munsey on Ballparks
by Paul Munsey (archive)
May 7, 2005
I'm in Florida this week. While driving here, I decided to take a detour and check out some Grapefruit League ballparks. A few months ago I did something similar in Arizona. While the Spring Training ballparks in Florida are more numerous and spread out than their counterparts in Arizona, it didn't take as long as I thought, even though I visited twelve of them. On my way back next week, I'll probably visit the other five.
There is quite a variety. With a few exceptions, I was able to just walk in and look around. In many cases, there were minor league players practicing or grounds crews working on the field.
Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee is an attractive new ballpark which is conveniently located off the Florida Turnpike. The Astros use this facility in the spring and it typifies the relaxed atmosphere you would expect at a ballpark of its size.
Cracker Jack Stadium is in the Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World. It's obvious that it cost a lot of money to build the place. Considering that Disney and the Braves are involved with this facility, I expected it to be locked down with armed guards. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they allowed people to walk around the complex with relative freedom. I went inside the ballpark to learn that they were replacing the entire field with new grass.
I remember when the Red Sox played their Spring Training games at Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven. Now the Indians use the facility, which has been there since the 1960s. It's showing its age, but is still appears to be adequate for its purpose. It reminds me a little of Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland is another ballpark from the 1960s, but it has been thoroughly renovated and looks like it was built in the 1990s. It's a very attractive facility which the Tigers use for their Spring Training.
The Yankees hold Spring Training at Legends Field in Tampa. One of their farm teams also plays there. Unfortunately, the place was locked up like Fort Knox. It's in a congested area and the team may have good reason for the tight security. Personally, I thought it was overkill.
Knology Park is in Dunedin, which is a relatively quiet beach community. The Blue Jays play there in the spring. While I was there, they were preparing the field for a game. The seats were faded, but it still looks like a good place to watch a game.
Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater is a very new ballpark which reminds me of Surprise Stadium in Arizona. Designed by HOK Sport, you can walk around the field. The Phillies play there in the spring.
Al Lang Field, also known as Progress Energy Park, in St. Petersburg is in a great location near the water. It was locked up and looked like it might be next spring before they unlock it for the Devil Rays to use. There are already rumors that the team wants out of Tropicana Field. My vote would be to upgrade Al Lang Field and let the team play their games by the bay.
McKechnie Field in Bradenton is in what looks like a rough part of town. The Pirates play there Spring Training game there. It's a good facility, but its location would seem to discourage many people from going out of there way to see a game there.
Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota is where the Reds play in the spring. It's a typical small ballpark located in a commercial area. It was designed by HOK Sport before the retro revolution and has 1980s written all over it. There's a custom motorcycle shop across the street.
City of Palms Park is in downtown Fort Myers and hosts the Red Sox during Spring Training. By the time I arrived there, it was getting late and the place was all locked up. It's close to many tourist attractions and hotels, but there is a quiet charm to the neighborhood. It reminds me of earlier time.
Hammond Stadium is located in Fort Myers out on the Six Mile Cypress Expressway. The Twins call it home in the spring. It's a suburban style ballpark and I was lucky enough to catch a minor league game while I was there that evening. It was a very pleasant experience.
If I had to pick one city to visit during Spring Training, I think it would be Fort Myers because it features two excellent ballparks with very different styles. Clearwater - Dunedin would be a close second place.
Paul Munsey is the editor of Ballparks.com.
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