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Enjoying the Mets in Florida 
Florida in the early spring for visitors from the north is a great break from the cold. Add in a chance to enjoy Mets baseball, and it becomes one fine vacation. I started attending spring training games as a visitor to Florida about 17 years ago, back when the Mets trained in St. Petersburg. I’ve got a few tips and tricks I wish to pass along to help you enjoy your visit to spring training. If I miss something, or if you have a question, please feel free to E-mail me at mrmet@palmnet.net 
 
Some overall tips and pointers:
Get a magazine called Spring Training Baseball Yearbook. Last years edition cost $4.95 on the newsstand and it was full of schedules, maps, phone numbers, etc. Carry it with on your baseball junkets as a reference. It says on last years issue that to order the 1998 edition send $7.00 ($2.05 shipping and handling) to Spring Training 1997, P.O. Box 667, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514 Phone (919) 967-2420 
 
The February Workouts: The Upfront and Personal
Way to Meet The Mets
 Spring training in Florida for the major league teams is comprised of two parts; the month of February, before the exhibition games begin, and March, when the teams play a full schedule of Grapefruit League games. Most people choose to visit Florida for a spring training vacation in March. If your objective is get autographs, shoot photos, or talk to the players, the February workouts are a better choice. Since the bad old days of Vince Coleman, the Mets have adopted a 'fan friendly' policy that allows fans right on the practice grounds with the players. They hand out free rosters and practice schedules. A concession stand is open for snacks and souvineers, including baseballs that you can get autographed. Best of all, the players and coaches are very approchable.
 One thing to keep in mind...DON"T BE A JERK! The players are doing their job; working to get ready for the upcoming season. The best time to approach them is as they walk between practice fields as they go from one workout to another. Once they've arrived at their destination, let them get back to work. If you missed a favorite player, you can catch him later. 
 As entertainment, the workouts themselves range from boring to fascinating. From my perspective, the jogging, stretching and calistenics, are a yawn. Two years ago Dallas Green held them first thing in the morning. Bobby Valentine moved them to last thing in the workout last year. This year?
 After the group splits up and you can go follow whatever your interested in. It's kind of like a four or five ring baseball circus. You can follow your favorite player(s) or just go to the activity that most interests you. The free workout schedule that hand out will help point you in the right direction.
 Personally, I like to imagine myself as a scout. For example, in the spring of 1996 hardly anybody amongst the Mets fans I know  had seen Rey Ordonez. I sought him out at infield practice to observe what all the hubub was about. It was clear that the lightning fast speed that Rey transfers the ball from glove to throwing hand was really something to see.
  By the way, you'll be close enough to eavesdrop on the coaches as the work with the players. For you little league players and parents, you might pick up a tip or two from the pro's if you pay attention!
 
How To Watch a Spring Training Game 
 To enjoy fully appreciate a spring training game, the fan must be physically confortable and should get what he expects in terms of a ballgame. 
 Regarding comfort, be aware that March weather in Florida, while usually pleasant, can be steaming hot or freezing cold. Windy conditions are also common. Pack a warm baseball jacket and warm pants, etc. especially if you plan to go to any night games. If you don't need them, you can cuss me out, but if you do need them , maybe you won't freeze. Day games are more apt to be nice, or nice and hot. Watch out for the Florida sun! A baseball cap and sunscreen are musts if you sit in the sunny side of the field on a hot day. (I'll have more to say about sun fields when I discuss Florida's ballparks.
 Regarding the aspect of getting what you expect: Let us review the nature of a spring training game:
These are exhibition games..They don't count. Root like hell, but not like it's game seven of the World Series.
I had that inflicted upon me an extreme case of this in '96 at a Mets - Marlins game in Vierra. This Marlins fan was somehow convinced that this game was THE most important game ever played. His behavior was assinine and he came close to precipitating a brawl with some other jerk. (But I decided "What the hell..." and changed seats). Remember, fans from all over the country and even from all over the world are all around you. Be a good sport.
Another aspect of a spring training game: The manager wants to see how the players perform under various scenarios..He's NOT managing to win. (eg.  I saw John Franco START a game in '96!) 
And player substitutions are frequent. Unless you are a masochist, scoring the game is not a great idea (I confess that I do it sometimes anyway...Ohhhh hit me again!!!) If a pitcher is getting creamed, but he hasn't thrown the prescribed number of pitches, he'll probably stay in and continue to get murdered. If a player has been asked to change positons from the one he played the season before, you'll see plenty of him at the new position, even if looks a little rocky (e.g. Jeff Kent at third, spring 1996)
Finally, getting them autographs! Arrive early, when the gates open. Get down to railing and be bold, but don't cross that fine line that puts in the asshole category. Don't go after more than one autograph per player. Players will tag you a an 'autograph seller' and will bawl you out. (Rusty Staub once yelled at me, and I honestly only wanted a second autograph to give to my brother-in-law!)  After the game you might have some luck getting players to sign, but before the game works better.
 
‘B’ Squad Games: Spring Training’s Best Bargain
Not to be confused with split squad games, 'B' squad games are not on any official schedule. They are arranged after the teams arrive in Florida to get some extra work in. They're usually held in the morning, and they're FREE! Consistant with it's name, a lot of lesser players play in them, but bonafide major leaguers will also be playing. They're sometimes played on a practice field (the Marlins do that) or on the main field (the Mets do it that way). Concession stands may or may not be open. When I find out the schedule of the  Mets 'B' Squad games, I'll post them on this web site. Or you can call the Mets yourself  at (561)871-2115, but wait until late February at the earliest.
 
An Incomplete Look at Florida’s Spring Training Ballparks 
If this is your first trip to Florida, keep in mind that its a big state and the ballparks are spaced out around the the state. Refer to a map or Spring Training Magazine's driving guide (located inside the back cover of last years issue) to calibrate yourself  and to help plan your driving time.
 
A general note about Florida's spring training ballparks: These parks are MUCH smaller than the big league ballparks. They're used in the Florida State League class "A" minors from April until September, and so they only hold about 5,000-7,500 people. This means that almost all the seats in any ballpark will provide you with an excellent view of the action, so don't feel too bad if you don't get your first choice in seating.
 
And now onto my highly opinionated view of some of the spring training ballparks:
 
METS
Thomas J. White Stadium (561) 781-2115  in Port St. Lucie is a very nice modern facility. All the seats give a good view. Avoid the bleacher seats, for comfort reasons. To avoid the direct hot sun (and the occasional shower), I try to  get seats in sections 201 -207.
 
DODGERS
Holman Stadium (407)569-6858 in Vero Beach has the most picturesue grounds of any in Florida. The Dodgers trained there since their Brooklyn days, and the size of the pines trees show it. One big drawback: there's virtually no shade in the stands. What little there is is taken up by the season ticket holders. Bring sunblock! If your in a picnic mood, try the bern, the grassy hills beyond the outfield fence. (But its a lousy view of the games) Avoid the private parking lot directly across the street. The guy is not associated with the team and you'll pay $4 -$5 more than just around the corner on 43rd Avenue.
 
MARLINS
Spacecoast Stadium (407) 633-9200    Avoid those uncomfortable bleacher seats if you can! One of the newer ballparks in Florida, located only 20 minutes from my house, it's in a cow pasture just north of Melbourne that will someday be a planned community. My favorite seats are the top row of the seats under the shade canopies located behind either the first or third sides. You're out of the weather and and a nice breeze can be grabbed most times. I can't remember the section numbers, but if you ask the ticket folks, they'll know what your talking about. I once raved about the bratwurst served there with onions and peppers. My opinion has dropped as they are no longer grilled fresh and served on hot dog buns (see below) Hamburgers are better than hot dogs here (incredibly bad hot dog buns, combined with awkward packaging make burgers a better choice)
 
ROYALS
Baseball City Stadium (813) 424-2500 is a really neat, fairly new ballpark. Located only 30-45 minutes west of Disney just off I-4, it has a major league feels to it. (The parking lot is scruffy, but who cares). Similar to Dodger Stadium  in L.A. , you enter from the top and go down to your seats. A super place to watch a game, but no roving beer vendor.
 
TIGERS
Joker Marchant Stadium (941)686-8075 is an older ballpark, but lovingly kept up by the gang over in Lakeland. Lakeland is about halfway from Orlando to Tampa. The stadium is almost a shrine to the great Tigers players and the their great teams of yore. More than most parks in Florida, the vast majority of the fans are home town fans. (Obvious exception; the Marlins) One tip here: Box seats here put you right in the action. If you plan to take in a game at Joker Marchant, try and get a box seat. But be warned...there's only a very small number of box seats in the stadium.
 
ASTROS 
Osceola County Stadium (407) 933-2520 is an old ugly facility. On the plus side, it's located in Kissimmee not too far from Disney. OK, that finishes the plus side. If you plan to attend a game here, it is IMPERATIVE that you buy box seats! The rest of the seats are so grossly uncomfortable as to kill your back and backside! One point of interest?... it's the only park I've ever seen that has no distance marker on the straight away centerfield wall. Instead, there's two crudely painted distance markers, both just off-center.  Go figure!
 
INDIANS
Chain O'Lakes Park (941) 293-3900 was the spring home the Red Sox for years and years. You'd never know it now. Located in Winter Haven, the town has embraced the Indians in a huge way! The park itself is a oldie but goodie, offering lots of shade with an old fashioned dark green motif that has been embraced at such major league parks as Camden Yards and Jacobs Field. Finding it is a bit of a challenge. Unless you're visting Cypress Gardens, Winter Haven is off the beaten path. Chain 'O Lakes Park is located  at the corner of Cypress Gardens Blvd. and 3rd. St. (Route 17) in the south part of town. As you're driving and trying to find it, look for the large orange domed structure that sits next door to the ballpark. The location of Chain O' Lakes Park also creates traffic problems in old Winter Haven. Give yourself plenty of extra travelling time as a newbie, as it seems every other street in Winter Haven is named "Cypress Gardens"!
YANKEES
 I haven't been to the Yankees new park, Legends Field, near Tampa, but I've heard fans raving about it. I've heard that they even have a DiamondVision screen there. If you visit, E-Mail me back to confirm or deny the DiamondVision rumor!
In the meantime, here's a guest editorial from Club Member Sean Cannon:
"I went to Legends Field last year over in Tampa to see the Mets play the Yanks, and it is excellent place to watch a game.  It's field deminsions are modeled after Yankee Stadium.  The seats are very confortable and wide compared to other spring trianing ballparks (I fell like I am pack in like a sardine in Spacecoast.) .  A variety of consessions are available.  Most box seats are sold out excluding the last 2 sections on the third and first base towards the outfield.  Parking is across the street @ Tampa Stadium and there is a crosswalk to get arcoss the street.  It's kinda fan accessible for autographs, better than some parks that I have been to like Baseball City and PSL.  One warning, I-4 is being tore up and redone from the Polk/Hillsbourgh Co. line to I-275,  add 30 minutes to travel time if traveling from the Orlando area."
Thanks, Sean!
 
OTHER BALLPARKS I have visited, but not recently enough to fully critque include Bradenton, and Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg. Bradenton is a lot like Chain O' Lakes Park as I recall (but easier to locate), and Al Lang Field is a little newer and a fine place to see a ballgame. (If you attend a game there, E-Mail me and let me know if the singing peanut vendor is still there...he was worth the price of admission all by himself.)
 
 
 
I hope to visit both the Braves new park in Disney World and the new Cardinal/Expo facility in Jupiter.
 
Ummmm Beer! 
 
I lifted the following paragraph from last 1996's Spring Training Report #12.  How things play out in 1998 is anybody's guess!
BEER DRINKERS NEWS:  In years past here in Florida, there were no beer sellers wandering the stands; you had to leave your seat and go get a brew. This year at several different stadia that I have attended have roving beer vendors selling beer from 16 oz. cans. Prices vary wildly from $3.00 (Viera), $3.75 (Lakeland) and $4.00 (PSL). PSL has the most vendors and the widest variety of brands.   AND, they don't cut off beer sales after the seventh inning this spring! (Including roving vendors!) By the way, Dodgertown in Vero had neither roving beer vendors nor beer sales after the seventh inning.
 
POST GAME WATERING HOLES (FOR THAT 'HAPPY RE-CAP!')
Jensen Ale House(561) 692-3293 3611 NW Federal Hwy., Jensen Beach (near Port st. Lucie)
'I've been told the Mets players hang here after practices and games.
Coasters Pub and Brewery, 779-BREW (after a game at Space Coast Stadium) 
Over 35 different beers on tap and over 200 total on premises including his own microbrews. (AND you can find my name on the Brew University Wall of Fame!)
Pete Rose's, Ft. Lauderdale (after a game at the Orioles park)
A super sports bar, Pete does some live broadcasts of his radio show right from the pub. (but not lately)