|Have a ball this spring at these classic Florida parks|
|Like a crocus pushing through the snow, a brief February thaw, or the first robin hopping across the lawn, spring training is a hopeful harbinger that warm weather is not far off.
This spring, why not head down to sunny Florida for baseball? Major League Baseball teams gather throughout the state and participate in the Grapefruit League for the month of March. So grab your suntan oil and baseball glove as we visit five classic ballparks in Florida.
For this AAA Drive Trip guide to selected Florida spring training venues, weve compiled routes to camps you can easily complete in two to five days, depending on how long you wish to spend in each destination. Bear in mind that spring training is more popular than ever these days. In 2003, nearly 1.4 million fans attended 265 games during the monthlong season. So plan ahead and reserve your seats.
Roger Dean Stadium
The instant your eyes catch a glimpse of the green field as you walk up the steps from concessions to the seats, your face breaks into a wide smile. Baseball is back. After a long winter without their favorite sport, seamheads have found a little slice of heaven in Jupiter, spring home to the St. Louis Cardinals and World Champion Florida Marlins.
Roger Dean Stadium, 4751 Main St., (561) 775-1818, opened in February 1998. It is the only park in the country that hosts two minor league baseball teamsthe Jupiter Hammerheads and the Palm Beach Cardinalson a permanent basis.
Get up close to great Cardinals players, like Albert Pujols, or legends like Lou Brock and Stan Musial. Maybe youll snare an autograph or two.
This beautiful park was made to enjoy a baseball game. It seats about 7,000 fans and most home games will sell out, so call in advance. For fun, buy a berm seat and spread out on the grass to soak up the rays and atmosphere.
Dimensions: left field, 335 feet; right field, 325; center field is 400 feet from home plate. When Mark McGwire was playing for the cards, he once hit a home run that knocked stucco loose from the Expos clubhouse when the Montreal team shared the facility.
But thats one of the great things about spring training ballyou never know what or who you will see.
Disneys Wide World of Sports
Our baseball tour continues outside Orlando at Disneys Wide World of Sports® complex at Walt Disney World® Resort, 800 South Victory Way, (407) 828-3267. This is where the Atlanta Braves spend March preparing for their march to the playoffs. The Braves string of post-season appearances dates to 1991, minus the strike-cancelled 1994 playoffs. The classic double-decker stadium is the tallest of all spring training sites, with features that include towering archways, green tile roofing, a deep seating bowl and 9,500 seats (80 percent between first and third base). And, of course, youre right in the heart of theme-park country. So if youre looking for diversions, theyre all around you.
Joker Marchant Stadium
Next its on to Lakeland, home of "Tiger Town" and Joker Marchant Stadium, 2301 Lakeland Hills Blvd., (863) 603-6278, spring training home of the Detroit Tigers since 1934, the longest spring training relationship between a franchise and city.
Named for Lakelands former parks and recreation director, the stadium was built in 1966 on the site of the Lodwick School of Aeronautics, a World War II flight school.
In 2002, it underwent a $10 million renovation that included improved amenities, additional seating, private suites, an outfield spectator picnic berm, and a roomier concourse.
Want a souvenir? Sitting in the leftfield bleachers should increase your odds of snagging a foul ball, as very few fans choose to sit there. A word of caution to drivers: Dont park near these same bleachers. Foul balls seem to have a habit of reaching that area of the parking lot.
Chain O Lakes Park
About 30 minutes from Lakeland is Winter Havens Chain O Lakes Park, 500 Cletus Allen Road, (866) 488-7423. Erected in 1966, it was spring home of the Boston Red Sox from its inception until 1992. Its future was uncertain until a natural disaster turned out to have a silver lining for the field.
The Cleveland Indians were scheduled to move into a new complex in Homestead near Miami when Hurricane Andrew leveled the new facility in August 1992. As it could not be rebuilt in time for spring training, the Indians moved their operations to Winter Haven. The city agreed to make improvements to Chain O Lakes with the stipulation that the Indians would sign a 10-year lease. They did and recently renewed for at least five more years.
Set upon the shores of Lake Lulu, Chain O Lakes is remarkable for its simple yet most-scenic setting. Its outfield is like a green ocean with nary a brown spot to be seen. Red grandstand seats and blue outfield walls reflect the home teams colors. Tall, green trees encircle the park, peering in at all the action. The distinctively cut grandstand roof and the red pillars that support it provide a uniquely classic look.
Your next stop is Tampa, 45 miles west on Interstate 4, spring training home of the New York Yankees.
A visit to Legends Field, 3802 W. Martin Luther King Drive, (813) 879-2244, is practically like going to a major league ballpark. Other than the fact it seats 10,000 rather than 50,000, the park is a scaled-down Yankee Stadium.
The field dimensions are the same as in the Bronx, the facade of the grandstand shares the same decorating elements, theres a Monument Park honoring Yankee greats just like at the House that Ruth Built and it even has luxury boxes. Its also a darn fine field, perhaps the best among spring training facilities.
For more driving excursions, youll find 50 more pre-planned AAA Drive Trips throughout North America, each with a map, detailed directions, time between trip legs, and lodging and attraction information. For driving directions, Internet TripTik®/Traveler delivers on-demand, step-by-step instructions, and accompanying road map, plus in-depth info on area lodging, restaurants, points of interest, and events.
For more great sports road trips, check out AAAs Ultimate Fans Guide to Pro Sports Travel, a comprehensive guide to every major league sports team in North America, including driving directions, ticket information, parking, and seating tips. Get it today at www.aaa.com/barnesandnoble.
Some information provided by AAA Midwest Traveler staff.
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