Spring Training Spectacular

Although there’s no substitute for a major league game, Florida’s Grapefruit League (the original spring training for baseball teams, dating back to the 19th century) provides a unique experience for fans.

By attending free, open workouts available at most facilities—yep, the actual spring training that’s talked about every year—fans get closer to the game than is possible in a bustling, rock-blaring, big-league park. You can overhear instruction from coaches and possibly even have a conversation with players (or at least get an autograph).

It’s possible to circle the state—from Port St. Lucie clockwise or Kissimmee counterclockwise—and catch a game at a new park almost every day, with close to no skipping or backtracking. And if you’re more apt to plop down in one spot and take in a weekend of games, several teams/venues offer a three-day weekend block of home games (best bet: the dual-team venues of Roger Dean Stadium and the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the two venues closest to Miami, which host a game nearly every day of spring training).

What follows below are the vitals for the 15 teams playing in the Grapefruit League this February/March, in 13 unique venues. See you out there at the fields!

Bradenton (Pittsburgh Pirates)

McKechnie Field

1611 Ninth St. West

135 miles from Ocala

TICKET INFO: Start at $15, call (941) 747-3031

2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:05pm unless noted)

February 25 vs. Orioles (split squad)

February 28 vs. Blue Jays

March 3 vs. Orioles

March 4 vs. Red Sox

March 6 vs. Yankees

March 7 vs. Braves

March 8 vs. Dominican Republic

March 10 vs. Rays

March 12 vs. Twins

March 15 vs. Orioles

March 17 vs. Orioles

March 19 vs. Blue Jays

March 21 vs. Rays

March 24 vs. Rays

March 25 vs. Tigers

March 27 vs. Twins (6:05pm)

March 28 vs. Red Sox (6:05pm)

March 29 vs. Phillies

Bradenton Attractions: McKechnie Field is right downtown, convenient to the South Florida Museum, ArtCenter Manatee, Manatee Players Theatre and the bohemian Village of the Arts neighborhood.

Nearest Spring Training Site: Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota (Orioles), 13 miles south

The most recent McKechnie Field renovations gave fans a 360-degree view of the field, as an outfield boardwalk was added. New, covered outfield bleachers will pump capacity up to 8,500, and permanent roofing replaces temporary shade cover along the baselines for sun protection. The park also prides itself on affordability, with grandstand seats going for $15 and premium boxes just $28.

Did You Know? McKechnie Field was built in 1922 and has been home to spring training baseball since 1923 (and home to the Pirates since 1969). The Pirates have committed to McKechnie Field for spring training through 2038.

Clearwater (Philadelphia Phillies)

Spectrum Networks Field

601 N Old Coachman Road

119 miles from Ocala

TICKET INFO: prices TBD, call (727) 467-4457

2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:05pm unless noted):

February 23 vs. University of Tampa

February 25 vs. Yankees

February 27 vs. Rays

February 28 vs. Orioles

March 3 vs. Twins

March 4 vs. Braves

March 5 vs. Tigers (split squad)

March 9 vs. Blue Jays

March 10 vs. Yankees

March 12 vs. Red Sox

March 14 vs. Braves

March 17 vs. Blue Jays

March 18 vs. Pirates

March 22 vs. Yankees

March 23 vs. Twins

March 26 vs. Pirates

March 28 vs. Blue Jays (6:35pm)

March 30 vs. Yankees

March 31 vs. Rays

Clearwater Attractions: Less than 10 miles west of the park are Clearwater’s famous beaches, two state parks and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. To the east, the park is just a mile from the waters of Old Tampa Bay and the renowned Ruth Eckerd Hall, a performing arts venue.

Nearest Spring Training Site: Dunedin Stadium, Dunedin (Blue Jays), seven miles northwest

The 2017 season will mark 70 years of the Phillies training in Clearwater, and Spectrum is an incredible place to carry on the tradition. The main entrance is on the third-base side, which funnels fans past dozens of tall palm trees. The end of the entry spills out onto a concourse that circles the park, with unvarnished sightlines from every stop. Angled seating lends intimacy to the 8,500-seat venue. Outside the left-field fence is the Tiki Bar, much like that found at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Pirate Ship at Raymond James Stadium. The park has the smallest foul territory in Florida, meaning fans are closer to the action than anywhere else. And, well: philly cheese-steaks!

Did You Know? The Phillies can claim responsibility for establishing Florida as a permanent spring training site. The team trained in St. Petersburg in 1915 and then won 14 of its first 15 regular season games en route to the National League pennant, “proving” Florida’s merit as a training ground.

Dunedin (Toronto Blue Jays)

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium

373 Douglas Ave.

121 miles from Ocala

TICKETS: starting at $18, call (727) 733-0429

2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:07pm unless noted):

February 26 vs. Phillies (split squad)

February 27 vs. Pirates

March 1 vs. Tigers

March 2 vs. Phillies

March 3 vs. Yankees

March 5 vs. Rays

March 7 vs. Team Canada

March 11 vs. Phillies

March 13 vs. Red Sox

March 16 vs. Yankees

March 18 vs. Rays

March 20 vs. Twins

March 22 vs. Tigers

March 24 vs. Red Sox

March 25 vs. Canadian Juniors (split squad)

March 26 vs. Orioles (split squad)

March 27 vs. Phillies (6:07pm)

March 29 vs. Yankees

Dunedin Attractions: The stadium is just a quarter-mile from the Gulf of Mexico and a 15-minute drive from Clearwater Beach.

Nearest Spring Training Site: Spectrum Field, Clearwater (Philadelphia Phillies), eight miles southeast

The one word that most often pops up with Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is charm, stemming from its residential location and use as a community park: The Dunedin High School Falcons, Toronto Blue Jays and Dunedin Blue Jays earn equal billing on the stadium marquee. A sense of history and reverence is highlighted with the day’s lineups appearing on a large scorecard behind home plate, as well as memorabilia from Toronto’s greatest teams scattered in displays around the park.

Did You Know? The Blue Jays were established in 1977, and 2017 marks the 51st year the team has trained in Dunedin.

Fort Myers (Boston Red Sox)

Jet Blue Park

11500 Fenway South Drive

215 miles from Ocala

TICKETS: starting at $5, call (239) 334-4700

2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:05pm unless noted):

February 23 vs. Northeastern

February 24 vs. Mets

February 25 vs. Twins

February 27 vs. Cardinals

February 28 vs. Yankees

March 2 vs. Rays

March 5 vs. Braves

March 9 vs. Team USA

March 10 vs. Orioles (6:05pm)

March 11 vs. Rays (split squad)

March 14 vs. Blue Jays

March 16 vs. Pirates (6:05pm)

March 17 vs. Astros

March 19 vs. Twins

March 20 vs. Orioles

March 23 vs. Pirates

March 25 vs. Phillies (split squad)

March 29 vs. Twins

March 30 vs. Nationals

Jet Blue/Fort Myers Attractions: The sprawling Jet Blue complex is a bit isolated (although located just a mile north of Southwest Florida International Airport). About 20 miles west, however, is Sanibel Island, Fort Myers Beach and Estero Island.

Nearest Spring Training Site: Hammond Stadium (Minnesota Twins), five miles west

If you’re looking for Fenway Park South, you’ll find it at Jet Blue Park, with a Green Monster and manual scoreboard. The park seats 11,000 and incorporates a touch of South Florida with seashells in the park foundation and a white roof to provide shade.

Did You Know? Red Sox legend Ted Williams spent his final years in Inverness, about three hours north of Fort Myers. It was there, in 1994, that he built the Ted Williams Hitters Museum, which has since been relocated to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

Fort Myers (Minnesota Twins)

Hammond Stadium at Century Link Sports Complex

14100 Six Mile Cypress Parkway

215 miles from Ocala

TICKET INFO: prices TBD, call (800) 338-9467

2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:05pm unless noted):

February 24 vs. Rays (7:05pm)

February 26 vs. Nationals

February 27 vs. Marlins

March 1 vs. Pirates

March 4 vs. Blue Jays

March 6 vs. Cardinals

March 8 vs. Team USA (7:05pm)

March 9 vs. Team Columbia

March 11 vs. Red Sox

March 12 vs. Orioles

March 13 vs. Rays

March 15 vs. Cardinals

March 18 vs. Red Sox

March 21 vs. Phillies

March 24 vs. Orioles (7:05pm)

March 26 vs. Red Sox

March 28 vs. Rays

March 31 vs. Rochester Red Wings (12:05pm)

Hammond/Fort Myers Attractions: Hammond, like Jet Blue, is a sprawling training complex, but one that is located about five miles closer to shopping, restaurants and the Gulf of Mexico.

Nearest Spring Training Site: Jet Blue Park, Fort Myers (Red Sox), five miles east

Recently renovated Hammond Stadium boasts a 360-degree boardwalk around the outfield, more and better concessions and restrooms, and a new retail store. The stadium façade was designed to evoke Churchill Downs. Be sure to catch the Beer Garden and Bullpen Picnic Pavilion inside the park as well as the palm-lined Fountain Plaza as you enter the gates. During the regular season, Hammond is the home park of the Fort Myers Miracle, the Twins’ Class A Florida State League (minors) affiliate.

Did You Know? Beginning back in 1936 (as the then-Washington Senators) up through 1990, the Twins trained in Orlando and played their games at Tinker Field.

Jupiter (Miami Marlins/St. Louis Cardinals)

Roger Dean Stadium

4751 Main St.

223 miles from Ocala

Marlins TICKET INFO: starting at $24, call (561) 630-1828 or (561) 630-1829

Marlins 2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:05pm unless noted):

February 25 vs. Cardinals

February 28 vs. Mets

March 3 vs. Nationals

March 5 vs. Astros

March 6 vs. Mets

March 10 vs. Twins

March 12 vs. Cardinals

March 14 vs. Tigers

March 15 vs. Mets

March 17 vs. Nationals

March 19 vs. Nationals

March 21 vs. Astros

March 24 vs. Nationals

March 25 vs. Cardinals

March 27 vs. Mets

March 31 vs. Tigers (7:05pm)

April 1 vs. Tigers (12:05pm)

Cardinals TICKET INFO: starting at $24, call (561) 630-1828 or (561) 630-1829

Cardinals 2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:05pm unless noted):

February 26 vs. Marlins

February 27 vs. Nationals

March 1 vs. Mets

March 2 vs. Braves

March 4 vs. Nationals

March 7 vs. Marlins

March 8 vs. Nationals

March 9 vs. Astros

March 11 vs. Braves

March 13 vs. Astros

March 16 vs. Twins

March 18 vs. Mets

March 22 vs. Nationals

March 23 vs. Marlins

March 26 vs. Marlins

March 29 vs. Nationals (12:05pm)

Jupiter Attractions: Jupiter’s hip Abacoa downtown community is right across the street from the Roger Dean complex, where you’ll find the Hibel Museum of Art along with a bevy of restaurants (sports bars to Cuban or Caribbean, and French cuisine to sushi).

Nearest Spring Training Site: Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach (Astros and Nationals), 12 miles south

They call Roger Dean Stadium, home to both the Cardinals and Marlins, a “good mood” park. Perhaps that’s because it boasts a wonderful main plaza, with walkways crisscrossing beautiful flower and palm tree landscaping. The park is also uncommonly intimate; although being close to the action is a hallmark of spring training, it’s hard to get closer than the first- and third-base line seats at Roger Dean.

Did You Know? The 100-plus mph winds of Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne left Roger Dean Stadium badly damaged in 2004. Seven of eight light towers fell, including one landing on top of the press box and another on the Cardinals’ clubhouse roof. Ironically, the only structural damage to the ballpark building itself was one broken window.

Kissimmee (Atlanta Braves)

Champion Stadium, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex

700 Victory Way

91 miles from Ocala

TICKET INFO: starting at $15, call (407) 939-4263

2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:05pm unless noted):

February 25 vs. Blue Jays

February 26 vs. Astros

February 28 vs. Cardinals

March 3 vs. Red Sox

March 4 vs. Marlins (split squad)

March 8 vs. Phillies

March 9 vs. Yankees

March 10 vs. Mets

March 13 vs. Pirates

March 16 vs. Tigers

March 18 vs. Tigers

March 19 vs. Cardinals

March 20 vs. Marlins

March 23 vs. Tigers

March 25 vs. Mets

March 27 vs. Tigers (6:05pm)

March 28 vs. Orioles

March 29 vs. Mets

Kissimmee Attractions: Um, are you kidding? Disney!

Nearest Spring Training Site: Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland (Tigers), 35 miles southwest

Champion Stadium is one of the larger spring training venues (9,500 seats), with concessionaires dressed as Disney characters. It’s the 20th anniversary of the Braves at Champion Stadium.

Did You Know? Beginning in 1906 in Jacksonville to the present day in Lake Buena Vista, the Braves franchise has held its spring training in eight different Florida cities.

Lakeland (Detroit Tigers)

Joker Marchant Stadium

2125 N. Lake Ave.

89 miles from Ocala

TICKETS: start at $10, call (863) 686-8075

2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:05pm unless noted):

February 23 vs. Florida State College

February 24 vs. Orioles

February 25 vs. Astros

February 27 vs. Braves

March 1 vs. Nationals (split squad)

March 2 vs. Pirates

March 4 vs. Yankees

March 6 vs. Orioles

March 7 vs. Phillies (1:07pm)

March 10 vs. Blue Jays

March 12 vs. Mets

March 15 vs. Braves

March 17 vs. Yankees

March 18 vs. Marlins (split squad)

March 20 vs. Mets

March 24 vs. Braves

March 26 vs. Blue Jays

March 29 vs. Phillies

Lakeland Attractions: Detroit’s original spring training ballpark, Henley Field, is just a mile-and-a-half from Joker Marchant. Although the Tigers left in 1965, the park has remained, with an original façade oozing history. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, having hosted Tiger greats from Hank Greenberg to Al Kaline. Florida Southern College, a Division II baseball juggernaut, calls Henley home today.

Nearest Spring Training Site: Champion Stadium (Braves), 35 miles northeast

On the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 2016, Joker Marchant underwent a $40 million facelift: a year-round restaurant in right field, an air-conditioned stadium club, a covered party area for fan picnics, new shaded seats down the left-field line and a walkway encircling the entire Detroit spring training complex. Enjoy Motown classics played between innings of games as well as seats painted in Tigers orange-and-blue. During the regular season, Joker Marchant is home to Detroit’s Class A Florida State (Minor) League affiliate, the Lakeland Flying Tigers.

Did You Know? The Tigers trained in Lakeland in 1934 and have held their spring training in the town for 81 straight years now, giving the team the longest relationship with a single Grapefruit League city.

Port Charlotte (Tampa Bay Rays)

Charlotte Sports Park

2300 El Jobean Road

189 miles from Ocala

TICKETS: start at $10, call (888) 326-7297

2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:05pm unless noted) March 3 vs. Tigers

March 4 vs. Orioles

March 9 vs. Pirates

March 12 vs. Blue Jays

March 14 vs. Yankees (split squad)

March 15 vs. Red Sox

March 17 vs. Twins

March 19 vs. Phillies

March 20 vs. Pirates

March 23 vs. Yankees

March 25 vs. Red Sox

March 29 vs. Orioles

March 30 vs. Twins

Port Charlotte Attractions: The park is a mile from shopping at the Port Charlotte Center and the Charlotte Square mall and a 10- minute hop over the Peace River to Punta Gorda.

Nearest Spring Training Site: Jet Blue Park, Fort Myers (Red Sox), 35 miles south

Charlotte Sports Park has it all, from intimate, 5,000-fan seating plus berm perches and party areas, to the 360-degree boardwalk and left field Tiki Bar. The Rays also provide an especially kid-friendly experience, with the Kids Clubhouse Zone offering separate play areas for different ages, as well as a kids-only concession stand. The complex is also built with sustainability in mind, with features such as a green roof and Florida-friendly landscaping.

Did You Know? No team in the Grapefruit League trains closer to home than the Rays—Charlotte Sports Park is a mere 75 miles south of Tropicana Field.

Port St. Lucie (New York Mets)

Tradition Field

525 NW Peacock Blvd.

194 miles from Ocala

TICKETS: start at $15, call (772) 871-2115

2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:10pm unless noted):

February 25 vs. Nationals

February 26 vs. Tigers

February 27 vs. Astros

March 2 vs. Marlins

March 3 vs. Astros

March 5 vs. Cardinals

March 8 vs. Red Sox

March 9 vs. Tigers

March 10 vs. Astros

March 11 vs. Nationals

March 13 vs. Marlins

March 17 vs. Cardinals

March 19 vs. Marlins

March 22 vs. Marlins

March 24 vs. Astros

March 26 vs. Braves

March 27 vs. Nationals (split squad)

March 28 vs. Cardinals

Port St. Lucie Attractions: The ballpark complex sits about a mile north of typical shopping and eateries and 10 miles west of the Atlantic Ocean.

Nearest Spring Training Site: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter (Cardinals and Marlins), 41 miles south

Tradition field is three decades old, but recent renovations have allowed the park to keep pace with some of the new facilities in Florida. Improvements include one of the Grapefruit League’s largest Jumbo-Trons, sitting in left field, and a new picnic area. There’s also a souvenir shop accessible from outside the park, so you can grab some gear even on off days.

Did You Know? The most unique feature of any Grapefruit League ballpark is Tradition’s St. Lucie Bat House. Bats—the flying animals, not the wood sticks—had always been a nuisance at Tradition, but rather than bat-proof the park and leave thousands of bats dead or displaced, St. Lucie County created the Bat House. Accommodating up to 15,000 bats, the house is 14 feet off the ground with 160 chambers for bats to hang.

Sarasota (Baltimore Orioles)

Ed Smith Stadium

2700 12th St.

Sarasota (150 miles from Ocala)

TICKET INFO: prices TBD, call (941) 893-6300

2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:05pm unless noted):

February 26 vs. Pirates

February 27 vs. Yankees

March 1 vs. Red Sox

March 2 vs. Twins (split squad) (7:05pm)

March 5 vs. Phillies

March 7 vs. Dominican Republic

March 8 vs. Blue Jays

March 11 vs. Pirates

March 13 vs. Phillies

March 14 vs. Rays

March 16 vs. Phillies (6:05pm)

March 19 vs. Tigers

March 21 vs. Blue Jays

March 22 vs. Rays (7:05pm)

March 25 vs. Twins (7:05pm)

March 27 vs. Red Sox

March 30 vs. Tigers

Sarasota Attractions: The park itself is located in fairly urban environs, but just a mile southwest is the exquisite outdoor mall setting of Bayfront Sarasota, right on Sarasota Bay.

Nearest Spring Training Site: McKechnie Field, Bradenton (Pirates), 13 miles north

There’s no better entrance to a spring training park than walking up the home plate entrance to Ed Smith Stadium and immediately catching a glimpse of the entire field. Nearly every seat in the park is recycled from Baltimore’s big league field, Camden Yards.

Did You Know? In 1914, Baltimore (then the St. Louis Browns) played in the first true “all-purpose training camp,” Sunshine Park. It boasted a 5,000-seat grandstand, batting cages, sprinting lanes and sliding pits.

Tampa (New York Yankees)

George Steinbrenner Field

1 Steinbrenner Drive

97 miles from Ocala

TICKET INFO: prices TBD, call (813) 879-2244

2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:05pm unless noted):

February 24 vs. Phillies

February 26 vs. Blue Jays

February 28 vs. Tigers (split squad)

March 1 vs. Braves

March 2 vs. Orioles (6:35pm)

March 5 vs. Pirates

March 7 vs. Rays

March 8 vs. Team Canada

March 11 vs. Tigers

March 12 vs. Braves

March 15 vs. Phillies (6:35pm)

March 18 vs. Orioles

March 21 vs. Red Sox

March 24 vs. Phillies

March 26 vs. Rays

March 28 vs. Tigers (6:35pm)

Nearby Attractions: Steinbrenner Field sits in a bustling area near the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Raymond James Stadium. Right across the street is Al Lopez Park, which boasts 132 acres of Florida wildlife and two ponds, one that can be fished.

Nearest Spring Training Site: Spectrum Field, Clearwater (Phillies), 17 miles west

With an 11,076 capacity, Steinbrenner Field is the largest park in the Grapefruit League. It pays homage to 15 Yankees legends (Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle) with a sort of Monument Park South. Like a big-league park, seats are angled toward the field, making every spot in the house a sweet one. Other amenities include the Dugout Club and the astounding, five-tiered entertainment area known as the Walgreens Party Deck.

Did You Know? The Chicago Cubs arrived for the Tampa area’s first spring training in 1913, just north of where the University of Tampa now stands. A year later, the St. Louis Browns, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia A’s had joined the Cubs in the Tampa-St. Pete area, forming Florida’s first Grapefruit League.

West Palm Beach (Houston Astros)

Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

5398 Haverhill Road North

239 miles from Ocala)

Astros TICKET INFO: prices TBD, call (844) 676-2017

Astros 2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:05pm unless noted):

March 1 vs. Marlins

March 2 vs. Nationals

March 4 vs. Mets

March 6 vs. Red Sox

March 8 vs. Mets

March 11 vs. Marlins

March 14 vs. Mets

March 15 vs. Nationals

March 17 vs. Braves (split squad)

March 19 vs. Yankees

March 20 vs. Cardinals (6:05pm)

March 22 vs. Twins

March 25 vs. Nationals

March 27 vs. Cardinals

March 29 vs. Marlins

Nationals TICKET INFO: prices TBD, call (888) 632-6287

Nationals 2017 HOME SCHEDULE (all start times 1:05pm unless noted):

February 28 vs. Astros

March 3 vs. Cardinals (split squad)

March 5 vs. Twins

March 7 vs. Red Sox

March 9 vs. Marlins

March 10 vs. Cardinals

March 12 vs. Astros

March 13 vs. Tigers

March 16 vs. Mets

March 18 vs. Astros

March 20 vs. Yankees

March 21 vs. Braves

March 23 vs. Mets

March 24 vs. Cardinals

March 26 vs. Astros

March 28 vs. Marlins

Nearby Attractions: About five miles southeast are the terrific art and nightlife offerings of Palm Beach, including the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum.

Nearest Spring Training Site: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter (Cardinals and Marlins), 12 miles north

This brand-new facility hosts both the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals and surely has the most pretentious-sounding ballpark name in the Grapefruit League. No matter, when it comes to baseball, the ballpark is without peer: Capitalizing on the growing trend of spring training workouts melded with games, fans walk through training fields and workout facilities en route to the park itself.

Did You Know? In 1888, The Nationals (then a different franchise) became the first team to train in Florida, holding spring training in Jacksonville. Washington finished 37 1/2 games out of first place that season, which convinced other teams that Florida spring training was a bad idea. No baseball team returned to Florida to train until 1903.

Posted in Ocala Style Features

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