The most popular spring training park


by Joe Mock

To provide material for articles that I would be writing for the USA TODAY Spring Training Preview, I asked ReviewTrackers, a data-mining firm in Chicago, if they would do a research project. As they had done in 2017 with the regular-season parks of Major League Baseball (and I wrote this article about those results), I wanted them to examine online comments written by folks who had attended spring-training exhibitions. They agreed.

A couple of months later, Max Schleicher of ReviewTrackers informed me that they had completed their research on 36,000 user reviews by attendees of exhibition games. They summed up the findings in a wonderful paper called Voice of the Fan, which you can view on their website.

The report revealed their findings and provided context to the results by giving examples of actual online comments that supported why fans feel the way they do about the 23 spring-training ballparks. The report was fascinating. And the results surprised me.

As someone who has scrutinized every one of the 23 spring-training complexes, I expected the newer (i.e., more expensive) complexes like Salt River Fields in Arizona and The Fitteam Ballpark of the Palm Beaches (it just adopted this new corporate-sponsorship name, by the way) to top the rankings. After all, the architecture and amenities are, to me, phenomenal at these two facilities. And both cost a boatload of money to build. Read More

Fantastic renovations in Lakeland and Tampa

Article and photos by Joe Mock,
All rights reserved

During my trip to Florida to write about the new Ballpark of the Palm Beaches (see our in-depth review of it here), I made a point of attending games in Lakeland and Tampa. The reason? Both had undergone sweeping renovations in preparation for this year’s spring-training exhibitions.

As this panoramic photo (taken on the roof) shows, Lakeland’s Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium looks tremendously different than it did even a year ago.  Part of the year-long transformation was the extension of the grandstands down both foul lines.

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Salt River Fields: the complex that revolutionized spring training

As the spring training complex known officially as Salt River Fields at Talking Stick turns six years old, it’s easy to see its impact on the sport. Today, Major League teams want bigger clubhouses, more practice space and a better experience for their springtime fans. Salt River paved the way for all of that.

This article first appeared in the Spring Training Preview issue of USA TODAY Sports Weekly. I had so much great material for it that I obtained permission to reproduce here in an unabridged form. I think you’ll enjoy the extra insights that this longer piece offers.

Check out the article here.  If you’ve been lucky enough to attend a game or event at Salt River, post a comment at the bottom of the article with your impressions.

Braves planning move from Disney to Sarasota County

Since 1997, the Braves have conducted spring training at the Wide World of Sports area of Disney World near Orlando. As they’ve been nearing the end of their lease there, it’s been no secret that they’ve been checking out the possibility of building a new complex elsewhere in Florida.

Looks like they’ve found the spot.

Tuesday morning, Braves executives met with local leaders in Sarasota County to publicly discuss their desire to construct a new complex on undeveloped land near the community of North Port. The 70-acre site lies just south of the North Port campus of the State College of Florida, placing it a 12-mile drive from the spring-training complex of the Rays in Port Charlotte and under an hour to play the Orioles in Sarasota and the Pirates in Bradenton.  The Red Sox and Twins, both in Fort Myers, would also be close.

“We’ve liked it at Disney,” Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholz told me recently, “but we don’t have the teams around to play.  They’ve all moved out.” Indeed, with the Nationals vacating Viera and the Astros departing Kissimmee (both bound for a new complex in West Palm Beach), the Braves are down to one team (the Tigers in Lakeland) within a two-hour drive. “It’s just too much time on the bus and not enough on the practice fields,” Schuerholz observed. Read More

Sneak peek at Ballpark Of The Palm Beaches

It has been almost three full years from the time Jim Crane, owner of the Houston Astros, and Mark Lerner, principal owner of the Washington Nationals, met at the request of Palm Beach County, Florida to work together to build a new two-team spring training facility in South Florida.

Since then, Giles Kibbe, the Astros’ General Counsel, and Arthur Fuccillo, Executive Vice President of Lerner Enterprises, have worked tirelessly to make the facility a reality for the fans of the teams and Palm Beach County itself.

Fuccillo, who acted as my host for a tour of the complex, has been at Lerner for over thirty-five years. As such, he has been involved in all facets of legal work, the development of regional malls, major shopping centers, apartment complexes, hotels, the present day Nationals Park and significant other commercial developments.

However, since the Lerner family owns the Washington Nationals (and Fuccillo is a minority owner himself), he is asked from time to time to use his construction/development and legal experience to help in the business dealings of the baseball club.  So it was only natural that he was asked to become involved in the zoning, negotiation and construction of the team’s new spring-training complex.

And he is quick to point out that, “as they say, we’re on time and on budget.”  That budget, he said, is exactly $148,577,137.

And the timeline is in good hands. “Hunt Construction Group is working around the clock to get us open. They have over 650 people on site,” he added. “We cannot thank our consultants enough for all their hard work and time they have put into this project.  We look forward to being here with the Houston Astros and having successful spring training seasons for the next 30 years.”

The parcel of land for this complex measures approximately 160 acres.  When you subtract areas for parking, the three lakes within its borders and a ten-acre community park that will be built along its western edge, you’re left with less than 100 acres for the actual practice facilities and stadium.  That made it critical to be efficient with the use of land.

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