Hope springs eternal as Major League Baseball teams are set to begin spring training in just a matter of weeks. The annual rite of spring when professional baseball teams prepare for the regular season is something most any baseball fan should experience at least once in a lifetime. If your favorite team is playing in the Florida Grapefruit League, why not make the trip this year? Here's a quick rundown on the location for each stadium, as well as recommendations for dining and lodging.
The Atlanta Braves will once again play their home games at Champion Stadium, located within the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. First opened in 1997, the 255-acre ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex features nine multi-purpose venues, including four other ballparks and a softball diamondplex. A segment of Walt Disney World Resort, there are several affordable lodging and dining options nearby for visitors to the ESPN sports complex, such as Disney's All-Star Music Resort and Disney's Pop Century Resort.
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The Baltimore Orioles make their spring home within the walls of Ed Smith Stadium. Located just minutes from the heart of downtown Sarasota, the stadium's seating capacity is 8,500 .. Most of the best places for dining and lodging in Sarasota can be found along the coastline of Sarasota Bay, including on the barrier islands nearby. Among the best places to stay are the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, the Resort at Longboat Key Club and Lido Beach Resort. Excellent local dining options include Antoine's Restaurant, Big Water Fish Market and Tommy Bahama Restaurant and Bar.
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox play their spring training games at the appropriately named JetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers. With a capacity of approximately 11,000 fans, this spring training ballpark features a replica of the Green Monster out in left field, although much smaller than the the iconic original in Boston. JetBlue Park at Fenway South is just a 10 minute drive from the Southwest Florida International Airport, allowing for an easy transfer for arriving Red Sox fans. Along the way is a large cluster of moderately priced hotels, such as Four Points Sheraton and SpringHill Suites, that can be found near the intersection of Interstate Highway 75 and Daniels Parkway. However, the Fort Myers area offers several other lodging options, particularly off the coast on Sanibel Island and Estero Island. Great spots for dining in the Fort Myers area include Mina's Bistro, Reuben's Smokehouse, Roadhouse Cafe and the Veranda.
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The Detroit Tigers have been hosting spring training in Lakeland for over 80 years and currently play at Joker Marchant Stadium. Joke Merchant Stadium is a 8,500 seat ballpark that also serves as the regular season home for the Lakeland Tigers, one of the Tigers' minor league teams. Located about 35 miles west of Tampa and 60 miles southwest of Orlando, Lakeland has several very affordable places to stay such as Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn & Suites. Similarly, visitors have several very affordable options for dining, including GrillSmith, Harry's Seafood, Bar and Grille and Palace Pizza.
Since 1985, Osceola County Stadium has been the spring training home of the Houston Astros. Located just 15 miles west of the Atlanta Braves' spring training home field in Kissimmee, the Astros' 5,300 seat stadium has the smallest capacity of any other stadium in the Grapefruit League. Despite ranking last in capacity amongst all other spring training stadiums in Florida, loyal fans will say there isn't a bad seat in the house. With its proximity to Walt Disney World and the other major attractions in the Orlando area, there is a wide range of choices for comfortable lodging and excellent dining. Smart options for lodging include Embassy Suites by Hilton, Lighthouse Key Resort and Spa and Comfort Suites. For dining out, visitors might want to check out places like Savion's Place, LongHorn Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse.
Florida's own Miami Marlins play their spring training home games at the 6,871 seat Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. Located on 110 acres 82 miles north of the Marlins Park, the stadium first opened in 1998 and also serves as the spring training home field for the St. Louis Cardinals. Recommended lodging nearby includes Courtyard Marriott, Homewood Suites and Holiday Inn Express. Plenty of restaurants are also conveniently located near the stadium, such as Costello's Trattoria, JJ Mugs Stadium Grill, Jumby Bay Island Grill and Leftovers Cafe.
Like the Boston Red Sox, the Minnesota Twins play their spring training games in Fort Myers. But it's more of a spring training crosstown rivalry as the Twins host their home games at Hammond Stadium, about six miles west of the Red Sox's home field. Located within the enormous CenturyLink Sports Complex, Hammond Stadium has a seating capacity of 9,300 and is also the home of two of the Twins' minor league affiliates, the Fort Myers Miracle and Gulf Coast League Twins. Hotels like Homewood Suites and Fairfield Inn are just a few minutes from the stadium. However, like the recommendations for dining and lodging for Boston Red Sox fans, the best-rated spots can be found along the Gulf Coast.
New York Mets
The Mets will host spring training games at the 7,000 seat Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie. Also home to two minor league teams, the St. Lucie Mets and Gulf Coast Mets, the stadium has been the host for three Florida State League All Star Games, including last season's event. Port Lucie lies along Florida's Treasure Coast, about 48 miles north of West Palm Beach. Many affordable hotels are located a few miles from the stadium, including SpringHill Suites, Hampton Inn & Suites and Residence Inn. Also close by are several moderately priced restaurants like West End Grill, Spice Thai Restaurant and Park Avenue BBQ Grille.
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New York Yankees
The New York Yankees play their spring training home games at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Named after the longtime owner of the Yankees who passed away in 2010, the stadium holds 11,026 fans, making it the largest spring training ballpark in the Sunshine State. Steinbrenner Field is located across from Raymond James Stadium, the home of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Al Lopez Field, the former spring training site named after the Hall of Famer and Tampa native. Because Tampa is the third most populous city in Florida, there are hundreds of dining and lodging options for Yankee fans. Among the notable hotels near the spring training ballpark are DoubleTree by Hilton, Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel and the Intercontinental Tampa. Popular spots for dining in the Tampa area include Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant, The Capital Grille, Roy's and Bazille.
Much like the Detroit Tigers, the Philadelphia Phillies have had a long standing commitment with their host spring training city. Home spring training games for the Phillies have been held in Clearwater since 1958 and the current stadium, Bright House Field, has been in use since 2004. Located 19 miles west of Tampa, the ballpark has a maximum seating capacity of 8,500 and is also the home of the Phillies' Class A affiliate, Clearwater Threshers. To accommodate baseball fans, there are many affordable hotels close to the ballpark, such as La Quinta, Hampton Inn, Clarion Inn & Suites and Holiday Inn Express. Also near Bright House Field is a sizable collection of affordable restaurants, including Buffalo Wild Wings, Maggios Pizza Bistro, Lenny's Restaurant and Bayside Bar and Grill.
McKechnie Field is the spring training home field for the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League Central Division. Located in Bradenton about 12 miles north of downtown Sarasota, the historic ballpark was first built in 1923 but has undergone major renovations, most recently in 2013. Seating capacity is 8,500 at the ballpark named after former MLB player and manager Bill McKechnie, who was one of just two managers ever to win three World Series pennants with three different baseball teams. Located along the Manatee River, Bradenton offers many mid-priced hotels, including Hampton Inn & Suites, Courtyard Bradenton and SpringHIll Suites. Although many of the areas best restaurants are located on Anna Maria Island just outside the city, there are other restaurants closer to the ballpark including Yachtsea Grille, Fav's Italian Cucina and Riverhouse Reef and Grill.
Tampa Bay Rays
Florida's other professional baseball team, the Tampa Bay Rays, play their spring training home games at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte. The state-of-the-art facility near Charlotte Harbor has a seating capacity of 7,670 and is widely known as one of the best spring training facilities in the country. One of the Rays' minor league affiliates, the Charlotte Stone Crabs, also play their home games at this stadium. Port Charlotte lies 75 miles south of the Tampa Rays' Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Lodging close to Charlotte Sports Park includes Microtel Inn & Suites, Charlotte Bay Resort & Club and Days Inn Port Charlotte. Many of the area's best restaurants near the stadium can be found along Highway 41, such as Bella Napoli Pizzeria, Tijuana Flats, Donato's and Alli-Gators Grill and Bar.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays play their spring training games at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin. Located just just north of Clearwater and west of Tampa, the stadium has a capacity of 5,509 and features air-conditioned skyboxes. Some recommended hotels are found along Pope Channel at places like Holiday Inn Express, Yacht Harbor Inn and Comfort Suites. But several more outstanding places like the Hyatt Regency, Hilton Clearwater Beach and Sheraton Sand Key Resort can also be found across the channel on Caladesi Island. Excellent dining choices can be found north of the stadium at places like Casa Tina, The Living Room on Main and Dunedin Brewery, the oldest craft brewery in Florida. But baseball fans staying in the area should also check out the restaurants across the channel, such as Crabby Bill's, Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill and Island Way Grill.
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The Washington Nationals' home spring training stadium is Space Coast Stadium in the small community of Viera, about 20 miles south of Cape Canaveral. The stadium can seat up to 8,100 baseball fans and also serves as the home field for the Brevard County Manatees, a minor league affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. La Quinta Inn, Hampton Inn and the Holiday Inn are the only three hotels within three miles of the stadium in nearby Melbourne. However, visitors have far more dining choices in the immediate area, such as Pizza Gallery and Grill, LongHorn Steakhouse, Thai Hana and Amici's Italian Restaurant.
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Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com
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