Enjoying the Mets in
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
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.
Spacecoast Stadium (407)
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
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
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.
Osceola County Stadium (407)
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!
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
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."
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.
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!)
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)