BY LUIS CASTILLO
NEW! Houston Astros , Washington Nationals — West Palm Beach, Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. That’s right. We said West Palm. Spring Training is back in the area for the first time since the Braves and Expos left in 1997. The brand new, two-team, Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is a mile and a half off I-95 (Exit 74) 45th Street.
Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, Jupiter, Roger Dean Stadium. Named after car dealer Roger Dean (no relation to former St. Louis star Dizzy Dean), this is the other two team stadium in the Grapefruit League. The right side is all things Cards. This includes concession stands offering St. Louis fare like Toasted Ravioli with Marinara and the Chicago Cubs Hater dog. Hit the Marlins side for seafood delights such as a shrimp po’boy or crab cake sliders.
New York Mets — Port St. Lucie, Tradition Field. Nathan’s hotdogs and knishes will put you in a “New York-State of-Mind.” Beware of “Amazin’ Mets” traffic in either direction on St. Lucie West Boulevard if you’re coming off I-95 or the Florida Turnpike.
Atlanta Braves – Kissimmee, Champion Stadium. Try to hit this ballpark, which is at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in the middle of Walt Disney World Resort, on the weekend. It’s always busy near Orlando’s theme parks this time of year, but catching the Braves is a less-crowded endeavor while big crowds are with Mickey Mouse on Saturday and Sunday. For tickets make sure you confirm you do not have an obstructed view because the stadium’s upper deck slightly overhangs the lower deck.
Detroit Tigers – Lakeland, Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. Recent renovations offer more concession areas and “The Runway,” which provides fans with a 360 degree view of the field and a historical perspective on Tiger Town.
Baltimore Orioles – Sarasota, Ed Smith Stadium. When the “Ed” was redesigned in 2010, the designers intentionally gave it a yesteryear feel. Food offerings include Esskay hot dogs, a Baltimore tradition.
Boston Red Sox — Ft. Myers, Jet Blue Park. Red Sox seats are often the toughest tickets in the Grapefruit League to get — “Fenway South” is usually sold out for every home game. If you do get in, don’t leave early or you’ll miss such Red Sox traditions like the playing of “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the eighth inning.
Minnesota Twins — Ft. Myers , Hammond Stadium. Spur-of-the-moment planners beware, the Twins also draw well as loyal fans love a sunny break from their cold and
snowy winter weather. The ballpark features a façade designed to invoke the feeling of Louisville’s’ Churchill Downs.
Tampa Bay Rays — Port Charlotte, Charlotte Sports Park. This former home to the Texas Rangers is now one of the standard-bearers for Grapefruit League ballparks. In 2014 USA Today named the park a favorite sports destination. CSP offers the Baseball Boardwalk, a 19,000-squarefoot wooden walkway, and a tiki bar that stays open until 90 minutes after the game ends.
Philadelphia Phillies – – Clearwater, Spectrum Field (formerly Bright House Field). The Phillies have been training in Clearwater since 1948. When visiting Spectrum, save money buying a lawn seat. Then, try to stake out a spot at the tiki bar in left field and cool down while enjoying the game. Visit Lenny’s on U.S. 19 for a great breakfast. Their powerful lineup of Eggs Benedict options hits it out of the park.
Pittsburgh Pirates – Bradenton, McKechnie Field. Named after Hall of Fame manager and former Bradenton resident Bill McKechnie, the stadium has long been considered hallowed grounds for Spring Training. Baseball has been played on this field since 1923. The latest upgrade (in 2013), brought in a boardwalk that spans the outfield, a party deck and much needed additional parking.
Toronto Blue Jays – Dunedin, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. The stadium has a craft beer lounge, then head to nearby downtown Dunedin’s crafts beer scene to cap off a relaxing Spring Training day. Try to get tickets on the first base side. It’s a shadier option.
New York Yankees – Tampa, Steinbrenner Field. Like the Red Sox, the Yankees are traditionally one of the tougher tickets to score in the Grapefruit League. Shoot for a weekday game. Some ballpark improvements during the off season include a bar in the right field pavilion and cabanas offering private, shady areas in the right field alley.