Text and photos by Joe Mock
All rights reserved
Imagine you’re the starting center fielder for the Atlanta Braves for their exhibition game on March 24, 2019. The photo above shows what your view will look like — except for the mud, the beams, the cranes and the unfinished stadium.
That’s because the photo above was taken from field level while I was being given a tour of the construction site for the Braves’ new spring training complex in North Port, Florida. Many thanks to the Braves, Pendulum and Fawley Bryant for giving me this exclusive behind-the-scenes look. Pendulum is the design architect for the ballpark and Fawley Bryant is the Architect of Record for the entire complex, as well as design architects for the clubhouse, support buildings and practice fields.
The complex is located in the West Villages neighborhood of North Port. This is in the southern portion of Sarasota County (interestingly, the Rays’ complex in Port Charlotte is only 11 miles away). The 110-acre tract sits on West Villages Parkway about a mile south of its intersection with U.S. 41, which is also known as South Tamiami Trail. The only neighbors in this vast undeveloped area are the State College of Florida to the north and a small business park about half a mile to the west. In a couple of years, though, there will be a lot of homes and businesses within a mile radius. No doubt the presence of the complex will spur further development.
The view of the ballpark above is the first thing you’ll see when you drive south on West Villages Parkway. When the stadium is closer to completion, a beautiful color scheme will be added to these exterior walls.
This was taken on the south side of the ballpark, looking north. This is where parking for the complex will be located. When not needed for cars at spring exhibition games, these grassy fields will be used for youth soccer.
This shows you the interior of the ballpark. The shot was taken on the concourse behind first base, looking across the infield toward the third-base stands.
Because of the high water table, the playing surface is roughly at street level. Unlike parks in other parts of the country, no excavation took place here.
The main concourse is 16 feet above street level — and it is very wide. The walkway is also “open,” meaning you have a great view of the field. Since this is the concourse behind third base, the field is to the right in this shot.
This is taken from the concourse beyond third base, looking out toward right field. The structure in the upper left of the shot is to support stands that will be well above field level. Those stands will actually be directly on top of the home team bullpen. Just to the right of those stands is the part of the Braves’ clubhouse building that will house team offices.
No doubt, one of the most popular spots in the ballpark will be here. This will be a tiki bar, but unlike the ones at other spring-training parks, the entire area surrounding the bar will be under a roof. The other tiki bars have roofs that extend only to the row of seats at the bar itself. I envision this area being packed on game days.
This is one the two “super suites” on the upper level. This one is on the first-base side.
And here is where the seats that accompany the suite will be located. To me, this is the best vantage point in the ballpark.
Media personnel will have a nice, big area in which to write and broadcast, as this is the pressbox. Many new parks have moved the press area away from its traditional location behind the plate. Not here. It’s directly behind home.
This shot was taken from the upper-level concourse, looking down at the mammoth team store on the left (that will have two levels, and will be open on non-game days, too) and a grand entry stairway
The visitors’ dugout will be on the third-base side when action begins next spring. That won’t be at the beginning of spring training, though. That’s because the Braves have elected to hold 2019 spring training and almost all of the home exhibition games at Walt Disney World, the team’s spring home since 1997. They don’t want to move into the new complex until everything is completely finished. That means the training and player-development functions won’t move to North Port until April 1.
However, the team has announced that one exhibition game will be held at the new park, since it will assuredly be ready by that point. It will be Sunday afternoon, March 24, the last home exhibition (in Florida) for the Braves. I’ll be there!
This gives you a good look at the structure that will hold seats on the upper level and the home bullpen underneath. The clubhouse building is at the extreme right.
|Before we move from the ballpark to the Braves’ clubhouse, take a look at these renderings that show what the finished complex will look like. Above, this is looking toward the southeast, from over West Villages Parkway. At the top of the image is the “cloverleaf” practice fields. The image below is looking east at the main stadium, behind home plate. The two-story building in the foreground is the merchandise store. This also gives you a better idea of the attractive color scheme that will be applied to the ballpark’s exterior. Renderings courtesy of the Atlanta Braves.|
Now we’ve moved over into the clubhouse building. This will be the Braves’ Major League locker room, with space for 66 lockers. Most of the big-league clubhouses at newly built spring complexes are oval. Not here. “Ovals are inefficient,” said Steve Padget, principal of Fawley Bryant. “They waste too much space.” Hence this one is a rectangle. And a big one at that.
Toward the back of the clubhouse building is the locker space for the Minor Leaguers. Here there will be four “pods,” each with 44 lockers.
The lockers for the Minor League coaches, though, won’t be in this building. They were placed on the ground level of the ballpark, just a few steps away. No, this wasn’t the correction of an oversight. This allowed the architects to create locker-room space within the ballpark that can be used by players of college tournaments or (clever thought) a Minor League team, should one be brought to North Port. After all, the coaches will no longer need that space once the regular season starts, and that will provide locker space for other players without letting them into the clubhouse building. Very ingenious design.
This is where the players will work out. Much like the Cubs’ clubhouse in Mesa, the main exercise machinery and weights will be on the ground level, and cardio equipment will be on a balcony that overlooks this space. To the right, you can see where large windows and glass doors will be located. This allows in natural light and looks out at the agility field.
As you can imagine, there is an “arms race” where every new facility tries to outdo all previous clubhouses when it comes to space for the trainers and the all-important “hydrotherapy.” This room shows where there are already holes in the floor where hot tubs and an underwater treadmill will be placed.
This is the east exterior of the clubhouse building, with the ballpark beyond it. This is where the agility field will be. Unlike the artificial surface on such fields at other MLB complexes, this one will be natural grass.
This shows the “cloverleaf” where four full-size practice fields are being constructed. This is where the Minor Leaguers will work on hitting and fielding. The Major Leaguers have two full-size fields and a half field (infield only) adjacent to the agility field.
I had excellent guides for this tour. Above I’m flanked by Steve Padget (Principal) and Kirk Bauer (Project Manager), both from Fawley Bryant. The local firm did excellent work on the renovation of LECOM Park — for decades known as McKechnie Field — in Bradenton.
In the other image is Jonathan Cole, principal at Pendulum. Not only is he the lead designer for the ballpark within this complex, he was also the architect of the 2017 BaseballParks.com Ballpark of the Year, Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford.
I’ll be back in North Port in March of 2019 to prepare an in-depth review of the park and its game-day atmosphere — well, the atmosphere for one game, anyway!