Florida invented spring training and hosted the first integrated baseball game. Here’s an introduction to spring training in the Sunshine State and the cities that take you out to the ballgames.
By Josh Gillin
Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
Ballpark: LECOM Park, built in 1923, is the grand dame of Grapefruit League stadiums, and is the second-oldest professional ballpark in Florida behind Jackie Robinson Park in Daytona Beach. It features a Spanish mission-style façade and an intimate setting, even after a renovation a decade ago expanded seating.
Things to do: Located in a neighborhood setting, the stadium is next to the Village of the Arts, a community of artist studios, galleries and shops. The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature provides a great overview of Florida’s past and is very kid friendly. The Red Barn Flea Market is a great place for shopping for local wares and produce, and outdoor pursuits abound at Robinson Nature Preserve and De Soto National Memorial. Head west until you can’t go anymore and you’ll find Anna Maria Island, with communities ranging from packed urban oasis to tranquil beach town.
Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Ballpark: Spectrum Field is one of the most inviting of all of Florida’s spring training sites, with great sightlines and several fan-friendly features (yes, including cheesesteaks). There’s a playground at the end of the third base line, an outfield tiki bar that packs in customers and a large, budget-friendly berm for families with wiggly kids.
Things to do: The ballpark is near plenty of shopping options, but also is just down the road from the traditional Phillies Phan diner spot, Lenny’s. Clearwater Beach, often named as one of the best beaches in the world, is only a few miles down the road. Stop at Rita’s Italian Ice along the way before stopping to see Winter the dolphin of “Dolphin Tale” fame at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Team: Toronto Blue Jays
Ballpark: TD Ballpark is undergoing a major renovation for 2020 to increase capacity to 8,500, build a boardwalk around the outfield and add bars and concessions areas. Dunedin has been the spring home of the Blue Jays since their first season in 1977.
Things to do: With a population around 36,000, Dunedin consistently ranks among the country’s most walkable cities. Its Main Street business district is less than a mile from TD Ballpark, linked by the Pinellas Trail, a hiking and biking trail that runs the length of Pinellas County. Nearby beaches include Honeymoon Island State Park and Caladesi Island State Park, which is often named among the world’s best beaches. Dunedin also has no less than seven craft breweries within a five-minute walk of each other, including Dunedin Brewery, which bills itself as the oldest microbrewery in Florida.
Team: Boston Red Sox
Ballpark: JetBlue Park has earned its nickname, Fenway South, by featuring the same dimensions of the Boston original, down to the manual scoreboard. A replica Green Monster dominates left field, and yes, you can buy tickets to sit there, but the seats are in the middle of the wall, not on top of it. You’ll have to settle for standing room only on top (the entire stadium has a capacity of 11,000). Kayem Fenway Franks, lobster rolls and Sam Adams beer choices top the menu.
Team: Minnesota Twins
Ballpark: Hammond Stadium is just down the road from JetBlue Park, but features a completely different vibe. The showy exterior was inspired by Churchill Downs, and is highlighted by a waterfall. Inside the park, there’s a party deck in right field, a covered picnic area and a beer garden. Upper Midwest food options abound, from grilled meats and bratwurst to cheese curds. The stadium was renovated for $42.5 million in 2015.
Things to do: Situated along the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida, Fort Myers is surrounded by things to do. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford certainly thought so -- their seasonal homes are on display at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. Fort Myers Beach is on Estero Island, but the famed beauty of Sanibel Island, including the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, also is nearby. Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, which separated JetBlue Park and Hammond Stadium, offers boardwalk trails through the wetlands and a native butterfly garden. Native animals are a big attraction throughout the region: The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge is home to what is thought to be the last naturally viable colony of the big cats, and Florida Power and Light’s warm-water discharge attracts West Indian manatees looking to keep warm in the winter at Manatee Park. The Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium features nature trails and an aviary to go along with its museum.
Ballpark: Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, built in 1998, is shared between the Marlins and Cardinals, and is the crown jewel of the town center of the housing development here. The teams trade off home games and both have Class A minor league teams that play in the stadium over the summer. The park has a shaded concourse and lots of food options, with souvenir stands alternating depending on who is playing the bottom of the frame that day. The stadium is well-known for its intimate feel, with short walls and closely packed seating putting fans right next to players. The surrounding neighborhood is filled with shopping and restaurants, with people living side-by-side with the two teams’ training complexes.
Things to do: Just north of the Palm Beach area, Jupiter is near the massive Jonathan Dickinson State Park, the largest state park in southeast Florida, showcasing the paddle-friendly Loxahatchee River, which runs through the park. Blowing Rocks Preserve on Jupiter Island is a unique beach stroll, with limestone outcroppings framing sea caves and tidal pools. The Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse dates to 1860 and is open for tours.
Team: Detroit Tigers
Ballpark: Joker Marchant Stadium was originally built in 1966, but the Tigers have had a relationship with Lakeland since 1934, the longest tenure among any current spring training city and their home club. The stadium underwent a major renovation back in 2017, adding or rebuilding box seats, suites and air-conditioned spaces.
Things to do: Lake Mirror, in the heart of downtown Lakeland, is an upcoming area that already has added several dining options, with more in the works. Florida Southern College features both the Polk Museum of Art, with works by several world-renowned artists, and tours of several campus structures designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the largest single collection of the Prairie School architect’s work in the world.
Team: Atlanta Braves
Ballpark: CoolToday Park is part of a $125 spring training complex in the West Villages section of North Port, a burgeoning town between Sarasota and Fort Myers. The Braves moved from their longtime home in Lake Buena Vista, shortening the team’s travel time to several Grapefruit League competitors. They played one game in the park in 2019 before moving in full-time in 2020.
Things to do: Nearby Manasota Key offers a laid-back beach experience for people looking for a quiet trip, while private beaches near Cape Haze really highlight the relaxation factor. Coastal Living magazine named Venice one of the 10 Happiest Seaside Towns. The beach there is renowned as the Shark’s Tooth Capital of the World, because it’s a great place to find shark’s teeth that have washed ashore. There’s even a Shark’s Tooth Festival each year.
Team: Tampa Bay Rays
Ballpark: Charlotte Sports Park is home to the Tampa Bay Rays, who play regular-season games in St. Petersburg, 90 minutes north. This park is especially kid-friendly, with a playground and even a child-centric concession stand. It also features a boardwalk and tiki bar in the outfield.
Things to do: Port Charlotte is an unincorporated area surrounded by plenty of secluded, natural areas for outdoorsy sorts and beach trips. Myakka River State Park is a top spot for birders and bikers. Manasota Key is a top beach destination for sunseekers looking to avoid crowds. Boca Grande and Cape Haze showcase natural wonders and tony private developments that place a premium on privacy. Gearheads will find something to ogle at Punta Gorda’s Muscle Car City, which has a couple of hundred vintage hot rods from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Team: New York Mets
Ballpark: First Data Field, reminiscent of Shea Stadium, was built in 1988 and has undergone two renovations since then. It features a picnic area, berm seating and lots of covered box seats behind home plate -- plus Nathan’s Famous hot dogs. The parking lot has moving in and out down to a science.
Things to do: Superplay USA is an entertainment center worth a stop, with batting cages, bowling and an arcade. Duffers will enjoy a day at PGA Golf Club at PGA Village, across I-95 from the ballpark. Nearby Hutchinson Island has a beach to suit just about every mood, with amenities to match. And if you just happen to be looking for an apple fritter the size of a catcher’s mitt, check out Donut Circus in Fort Pierce.
Team: Baltimore Orioles
Ballpark: Ed Smith Stadium boasts a unique entrance, allowing fans to glimpse home plate as soon as they enter the ballpark. An indoor concourse offers some relief from the spring sun, and while the seating capacity is just over 7,400, standing-room options push capacity to 8,500.
Things to do: Downtown Sarasota features an eclectic cultural scene, with restaurants, shops and performance spaces galore. The region has a rich history as the winter camp of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. John Ringling and his wife Mable lived at Ca’ d’Zan, their Venetian Gothic manse near what is now the Ringling Museum of Art. The region is also popular among the Mennonite and Amish churches, with the Pinecraft community serving as their snowbird base. Stop by Yoder’s Restaurant and Amish Village for some fried chicken or to buy a handmade rocking chair. Beachwise, St. Armand’s Circle on Lido Key is a destination for the well-heeled, and a visit to Siesta Key shows the area is much more than what the reality show highlights.
Team: New York Yankees
Ballpark: George M. Steinbrenner Field is the largest stadium in the Grapefruit League, with a seating capacity of just over 11,000. It works hard to maintain a true Yankee Stadium feel, and showcases cabanas and covered seating options. The team has been in the park for a quarter century, and the late Yankees owner it’s named for is a local legend.
Things to do: Tampa is the anchor of the second-largest metropolitan area after Miami, and has scads of entertainment options. The trendy Armature Works food hall is not too far from the ballpark. Sparkman Wharf, an outdoor foodie haven built with shipping containers, is downtown near Amalie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Florida Aquarium. Ybor City, a historic district filled with shopping, dining and nightlife options, was once the center of Florida’s cigar production. In the mood for a movie? Tampa Theatre is an old-fashioned cinema that dates to 1926.
Ballpark: FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches opened in 2017, attracting both the Astros and Nationals with a range of modern-day spring training amenities. The teams share the same park, alternating days for home-field designation. One current trend the ballpark bucked was keeping the capacity relatively small at 6,400 seats, although there is a huge section of berm tickets in the outfield and plenty of room for party decks and suites. The $148 stadium complex is enormous, and for 2020 will showcase an interesting development -- the Nationals beat the Astros in the 2019 World Series.
Things to do: FITTEAM Ballpark is only minutes away from Clematis Street, the revitalized historic heart of the city, and its more recent dining and entertainment rival, Rosemary Square, a huge outdoor shopping plaza. The island community of Palm Beach is always a popular stop. The Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society is small but impressive, and the Norton Museum of Art showcases an eclectic collection. If the temperatures are still low, there’s a good chance you can see manatees huddled in the water at Manatee Lagoon, a viewing spot near Florida Power and Light Company’s Riviera Beach Plant (the manatees converge to enjoy the warm spillover water from the plant).
To learn more about baseball in the Sunshine State, visit the Florida Grapefruit League website, where you’ll find spring training schedules, a history of the sport in Florida, a guide to teams and venues and more. The Florida Sports Foundation is another good source for Florida spring training information.
And if that's still not enough Florida baseball, here's check out Where to See Minor League Baseball in Florida.