By H. Wadowski
There’s no better place for baseball fans to be flying to this February and March than Florida. That’s when some of Major League Baseball’s finest will once again report to the Sunshine State for spring training.
An annual tradition for many baseball enthusiasts, more than 26 million fans have attended a spring training baseball game in the state of Florida since the year 2000. In fact, last year during the 35-day 2016 Florida Grapefruit League spring training season, each of the 215 games had approximately 7,096 fans in attendance—the first time the average attendance topped 7,000 people in a single season!
Home to 13 spring training ballparks, Florida has a rich history of hosting spring training games. Five Florida communities—Bradenton, Clearwater, Sarasota, Fort Myers and Lakeland—have actually hosted spring training since the 1920s! In total, 15 teams call Florida their spring training home, four of which will be hosting games this season in newly renovated or new stadiums. Lakeland’s Joker Marchant Stadium will debut new renovations for the Detroit Tigers; West Palm Beach will welcome The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, a two-team complex for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals; and Tampa’s Steinbrenner Field will unveil several new ballpark enhancements for the New York Yankees.
Arguably Major League Baseball’s most popular team, the New York Yankees attract thousands of fans every year to Steinbrenner Field. This year’s spring training schedule runs from Feb. 24 to March 30, with the first home game scheduled for Feb. 24 against the Philadelphia Phillies. Even though Steinbrenner Field is one of Florida Grapefruit League’s bigger ballparks with a capacity of 11,076 people, tickets go fast, so fans are encouraged to buy them as soon as possible.
The Yankees’ longtime rival, the Boston Red Sox, also call Florida their spring training home, playing at Fort Myers’ JetBlue Park. One of Florida Grapefruit League’s newer—and larger—ballparks, JetBlue Park opened in 2012 and can accommodate 11,000 fans. The Red Sox will play a total of 17 spring training games there this season, starting on Feb. 24, when the team hosts the New York Mets and ending on March 30 when they play the Washington Nationals.
Fort Myers is the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins as well, who play at Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex. The stadium, which was renovated in 2015, can hold 8,730 guests, with each game averaging just under 7,000 fans in attendance. The Twins’ spring training schedule kicks off at home on Feb. 24 against the Tampa Bay Rays, with their final home game of the season also scheduled against the Rays on March 28.
The Tampa Bay Rays play all of their home games at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte. The team’s spring training ballpark since 2009, the stadium can accommodate 6,823 fans, with more than 5,000 fixed seats and general admission areas that can accommodate more than 1,000 additional people. The Rays’ first home game this season is scheduled for Feb. 25 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
One of the oldest teams to hold spring training in Florida, the Pittsburgh Pirates play their home games at McKechnie Field in Bradenton. Renovated in 2013, the stadium can accommodate 8,500 fans, with the first home game of the season scheduled for Feb. 25 against the Baltimore Orioles.
Those visiting Sarasota can catch the Baltimore Orioles playing at their spring training home, Ed Smith Stadium, which was renovated in 2011 and can accommodate 7,500 people. The Orioles’ first home game is scheduled against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Feb. 26, with their final game of the season scheduled at home on March 30 against the Detroit Tigers.
Champion Stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee always scores a home run with Atlanta Braves fans, as it can accommodate 9,500 people for each home game. The Braves’ spring training season begins at home on Feb. 25 against the Toronto Blue Jays and concludes at home on March 29 against the New York Mets.
Fans of the Philadelphia Phillies, meanwhile, will want to head to Bright House Field in Clearwater to see their favorite Major League Baseball team host a game. Home spring training games for the Phillies begin on Feb. 25 against the New York Yankees, and end on March 31 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Capacity for each game is 7,700 people.
Other Florida Grapefruit League ballparks include Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium, home to the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals; Port St. Lucie’s Tradition Field, home to the New York Mets; and Dunedin’s Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, home to the Toronto Blue Jays.
For more information on each team’s spring training schedule, as well as tickets, exhibition games and workouts, visit floridagrapefruitleague.com.