As much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, it appears as though I am going to be the one to burst your bubble. That spring training invite to Red Sox camp is not in the mail, nor does it look like it will ever come. However, that only means that you will not be hitting in the number 2 in the batting order in front of Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and J.D. Drew. It does not limit you from hopping on the next available mode of transportation (planes, trains, automobiles, and several 4-legged friends all apply) and heading down to Florida for some Grapefruit League action.
The bigger of the two spring leagues in terms of number of teams (18 teams as opposed to 12 in the Cactus League in Arizona,) the Grapefruit League stretches from Lake Buena Vista in the Orlando Area down to Fort Lauderdale and across the entire peninsula. It might be hard for new baseball fans or unseasoned spring training visitors to get the full experience, so this guide will tell you where your favorite team is, where to stay in Florida, and what other activities there are to do.
Fort Meyers, Fla.
Team(s): Minnesota Twins; Boston Red Sox
– Boston Red Sox: City of Palms Park. 2201 Edison Avenue, Fort Meyers, FL 33901
Year Opened: 1992
Ticket Information: www.mlb.com / (617) 482-4SOX (482-4769)
– Minnesota Twins: Hammond Stadium. 14100 Six Mile Cypress Parkway, Fort Meyers, FL 33912
Year Opened: 1991
Ticket Information: www.twinsbaseball.com / (800) 33-TWINS (338-9467)
Where to Stay
– If you are interested in the Twins, then you might want to know that they stay at the Fort Meyers Radisson Inn. It’s far from the complex, but the players will be there every night, so if you want to stay with at the same place, this would be your choice. If that’s not what you were interested in, then there are a number of low-cost options around the area. Nothing is within walking distance, so you want to drive your own car, get a rental, or have a definitive form of transportation.
– If you are a Red Sox fan, then the closest place is going to be the Quality Inn. That place is for the diehards because it does not offer very many amenities that would be appealing. Other than that, you would be in the same boat as the Twins’ fans. Any of the budget hotels, maybe around the downtown area, would be best for you.
Sarasota / Bradenton, Fla.
Team(s): Cincinnati Reds (Sarasota); Pittsburgh Pirates (Bradenton)
– Cincinnati Reds: Ed Smith Stadium. 2700 12th Street, Sarasota, FL 34237
Year Opened: 1989
Ticket Information: www.cincinnatireds.com / (877) 647-7337
– Pittsburgh Pirates: McKechnie Field. 1611 9th Street West, Bradenton, FL 34205
Year Opened: 1923; renovated in 1993
Ticket Information: (941) 748-4610
Where to Stay
– Being that Sarasota and Bradenton are so close, you actually have a number of options either around the area or even outside of either town. If you are a fan of either team and are only going to visit their camps then you will want to stay local. In Bradenton, there are a number of hotels close to the stadium. Check out the Holiday Inn Riverfront if you want the most amenities. Most places recommend a hotel near the airport if you want to stay close to the Reds because Ed Smith Stadium is about 2 miles from the airport. If you only want to visit or are not a fan of either team specifically, then you could just as easily set up base camp in Tampa or St. Petersburg and make your way south for your visits.
St. Petersburg / Tampa / Clearwater / Dunedin, Fla.
Teams: Tampa Bay Devil Rays (St. Petersburg); New York Yankees (Tampa); Philadelphia Phillies (Clearwater); Toronto Blue Jays (Dunedin)
– Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Progress Energy Park (Al Lang Field). 180 2nd Avenue SE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Year Opened: 1916 (rebuilt in 1976)
Ticket Information: Tropicana Field Box-Office (in Tampa) / (727) 898-RAYS (7297)
– New York Yankees: Legends Field. 1 Steinbrenner Drive, Tampa, FL 33614
Year Opened: 1996
Ticket Information: www.legendsfield.com / (800) 96-YANKS (969-2657)
– Philadelphia Phillies: Bright House Networks Field. 601 Old Coachman Road, Clearwater, FL 33765
Year Opened: 2004
Ticket Information: www.PhilliesSpringTraining.com / (727) 442-8496
– Toronto Blue Jays: Knology Park. 311 Douglas Avenue, Dunedin, FL 34697
Year Opened: 1990
Ticket Information: www.bluejays.com / (800) 707-8269
Where to Stay
-Team specific spots: If you are a Devil Rays fan, then chances are you probably either live in Tampa already or know that St. Petersburg is the next town over. That being said, if you are from out of town, then you have your pick of places in either Tampa or St. Pete for you to stay in. It merely depends on if you are looking for luxury or just a place to sleep. However, the only consideration is if you want to spend a lot of time at the ballpark to stay in St. Pete because staying in Tampa would put you on the other side of the bay from the facility.
Same applies for Yankee fans; any of the hotels in the Tampa / St. Pete’s area would suffice, but the Airport is about 3 miles away and a perfect spot for you, unless you would like to try a hotel in-between the airport and the stadium. If you are a fan of either the Phillies or the Blue Jays, then your hotel options are about the same, seeing as how Dunedin and Clearwater are next to each other. Best Western and Holiday Inn have locations less than a mile away from Knology Park and the Blue Jays, while the Comfort Suites are near the Phillies facility. If you like the bigger cities, then St. Pete or Tampa is still very close.
Lakeland / Winter Haven, Fla.
Teams: Detroit Tigers (Lakeland); Cleveland Indians (Winter Haven)
– Detroit Tigers: Joker Marchant Stadium. 2125 N. Lake Ave, Lakeland, FL 33804
Year Opened: 1966 (renovated in 2003)
Ticket Information: (863) 686-8075
– Cleveland Indians: Chain of Lakes Park. 500 Cletus Allen Drive, Winter Haven, FL 33880
Year Opened: 1966 (renovated in 1993)
Ticket Information: (866) 48-TRIBE (488-7423)
Where to Stay
– Most of the lower-priced hotel chains have properties in Winter Haven, for example Super 8 and Best Western are two of the more highly rater according to Hotels.com. The team stays in the Holiday Inn, but that is only for you hardcore fans who want to be there for everything. As for Lakeland, the best bet if you want to walk to Tigers’ camp would be the Lakeland Mall Inn, which is walking distance to the ballpark. Any of the other chains in town (Hampton Inn and Best Western among the best of them) are all within 2 miles of the facility and are good bargains.
Lake Buena Vista / Kissimmee / Viera, Fla.
Teams: Atlanta Braves (Lake Buena Vista); Houston Astros (Kissimmee); Washington Nationals (Viera)
– Atlanta Braves: Cracker Jack Stadium. 700 S. Victory Lane, Lake Buena Vista, FL 34747
Year Opened: 1997
Ticket Information: www.ticketmaster.com / (407) 839-3900
– Houston Astros: 1000 Bill Beck Boulevard, Kissimmee, FL 34744
Year Opened: 1984
Ticket Information: www.ticketmaster.com / (407) 839-3900
– Washington Nationals: Space Coast Stadium. 5800 Stadium Parkway, Viera, FL 32940
Year Opened: 1994
Ticket Information: www.naitonals.com / (888) 632-NATS (6287)
Where to Stay
– In the Lake Buena Vista / Kissimmee area, many people suggest staying at the various Disney resorts available because of their proximity to Disney World. Any of the Disney resorts offer free transportation to the Braves’ ballpark and would be a reasonable choice if you plan on bringing the entire family. If you are looking for luxury, anything away from Disney property might be better for you because of a lack of comparable amenities at the Disney resorts. The prices go down away from Disney property as well, so it could be a double steal for you. Lastly, a new Disney community called Celebration could be attractive to you if you are a Houston Astros fan because of its proximity to the Astros’ camp.
– In Viera, you have a number of options. Some choose to stay in the Kissimmee / Orlando area because of its family atmosphere and the number of other activities at your disposal. However, if you want to be a die-hard fan and be near the Washington Nationals, then you might want to try Cocoa Beach. There you will get the beach atmosphere while being relatively close to the action in Viera. All major chains have venues in Cocoa Beach. There is one hotel close to the stadium, but it does not offer much of an advantage because you still need other means of transportation to get around the area.
Eastern Coast (Vero Beach / Port St. Lucie / Jupiter / Fort Lauderdale), Fla.
Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers (Vero Beach); New York Mets (Port St. Lucie); St. Louis Cardinals & Florida Marlins (Jupiter); Baltimore Orioles (Fort Lauderdale)
– Los Angeles Dodgers: Holman Stadium. 4001 26th Street, Vero Beach, FL 32961
Year Opened: 1953
Ticket Information: www.dodgers.com / (866) DODGERS (363-4377)
– New York Mets: Tradition Field. 525 NW Peacock Boulevard, Port St. Lucie, FL 34986
Year Opened: 1988
Ticket Information: (772) 871-2115
– St. Louis Cardinals: Roger Dean Stadium. 4751 Main Street, Jupiter, FL 33458
Year Opened: 1998
Ticket Information: (561) 966-3309 Palm Beach Co.; (314) 421-4400 in Missouri
– Florida Marlins: Roger Dean Stadium. 4751 Main Street, Jupiter, FL 33458
Year Opened: 1998
Ticket Information: (561) 775-1818
– Baltimore Orioles: Fort Lauderdale Stadium. 1301 NW 55th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309
Year Opened: 1962
Ticket Information: www.theorioles.com / (305) 358-5885; (954) 523-3309
Where to Stay
– It’s an interesting area, because it’s only 120 miles from Vero Beach to Fort Lauderdale. If you are a baseball nut and want to visit multiple spring training sites, as long as you have transportation staying anywhere along the coast will suite you fine. Dodger fans can find some hotels in Vero Beach, but not too close to the stadium. It will require a car or other reliable transportation to get to their games. Port St. Lucie offers more options with different entertainment options like golf or the beach resorts, but again it’s a matter of what you want out of your stay. If you are looking at seeing the Marlins or the Cardinals in Jupiter, do yourself a favor and get a car or have your vehicle available and just stay in Palm Beach. There are no hotels in walking distance in Jupiter and you’ll need a car anyway, but by staying in Palm Beach you get more out of your stay because there is more to do. Ditto for the Orioles in Fort Lauderdale, although there are hotels within walking distance if you are looking to follow the Orioles exclusively. If a vacation is what you desire, then Miami is only about a 2 ½ hour drive from Vero Beach and can be a great central base for a combination of spring training baseball and partying.
What To Do in Florida (When You Are Not Watching Baseball)
The courses in the state of Florida are renowned for their varying skill level, beautiful design, and their many amenities for the average player. Depending on where you are, you can always find a world-class course within your distance. If you are anywhere on the western coast, from Fort Meyers to the Tampa / St. Pete area, then you have your choices for cases. From Fort Meyers, you can head south to Naples and try either Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club or the Greg Norman-designed Tiburón Golf Club.
The Tampa / St. Pete area offers Mangrove Bay, one of the top 50 municipal courses in the nation or the Westin-Innisbrook, where the famed Copperhead course plays long and has hosted PGA events in the past. You can also check out the TPC (Tournament Players Club) of Tampa Bay. If you wish to trek the beautiful state, you can head towards Jacksonville and the TPC at Sawgrass. Go see the famed 17th hole and it’s green, which sits in the middle of a nice lake on an island.
Around Orlando there are a number of choices including, Bay Hill for the seasoned vets and Orange County National for those of you looking for some instruction or some extra practice before hitting the course. Disney World has various courses on their resorts that have 99 holes, some of which are replicas of famous holes around the world.
Meanwhile, the eastern coast of Florida has a number of choices. Head down to Miami for some big-name courses like Doral or the public Biltmore Hotel course. Heading north, Palm Beach offers a couple of fine options; you can try out the PGA National Resort and Spa, which serves as the headquarters of the PGA, or Emerald Dunes. Emerald Dunes offer a beautiful backdrop with the views of the ocean, but it comes with a hefty price tag. Lastly, if you head up to Port St. Lucie, the PGA Village might be the place to go. Former Dodgers manager Tony Lasorda has been known to tee up there on occasion.
Landmarks / Tours
There is something for everyone to see. If you visit www.visitflorida.com you can find a number of self-guided driving tours, many of which will keep you close to where you are and not cost you a lot in terms of gas prices. Some beautiful driving can be found almost anywhere in the state, whether the Atlantic Ocean is your prime destination or if you are interested in the Everglades Swamp areas or the Florida Keys.
Landmarks of interest include:
– Kennedy Space Center (Titusville, FL). There is plenty to see here, whether it’s the visitor’s center and the museum or the Astronaut’s Hall of Fame, the site provides both interesting exhibits and lots of educational sites. The basic tour, which comes with admission, takes you through the International Space Station Center, the LC 39 Observation Gantry, and the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
– Disney World (Orlando / Lake Buena Vista, FL). What can I say about Disney World that you haven’t already heard from screaming children all across the world? Well, there is plenty to do besides the theme parks, but it’s a good place to begin. Check out the Magic Kingdom for your Disneyland fix, and the Animal Park for a safari adventure. The Wide World of Sports might interest you, but if you are overwhelmed with the idea of more sports then there’s always Downtown Disney with shops, bars, and nightclubs for the after-hours variety.
– Cypress Gardens (Winter Haven, FL). A mix of roller coasters, thrill rides, and a butterfly arboretum highlight the vastness of activities offered at Cypress Gardens. There are animals and shows for the kids to enjoy and a good time for all in the family if you need a break from all the baseball.
– SeaWorld (Orlando, FL). Who doesn’t like dolphins? Another place with something for everyone. The different animal exhibits and shows will do wonders for your children if it is their first time, and there are thrill rides for the older children and the adults. Also check out the new Waterfront, an area of the park that is a collection of shops, restaurants, and other forms of entertainment made to replicate some seaside cities from across the world.
Check out other places for more information on attractions. I suggest www.visitflorida.com, which is one of the most comprehensive guides I found on the Internet.
Whether you are a hardcore fan of any specific team, or a general baseball fan with a love for the game, or even just someone looking to explore Florida and catch some baseball in the meanwhile, this guide should give you a better idea of what to do once you arrive there. Remember, spring training is only exhibition, so you cannot expect the best baseball in the world, but it is a chance for you to see your favorite players and teams up-close for the first time. Enjoy and remember, “it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out at the old ballgame!”