Spring is one of the most exciting times to visit Fort Myers, not only for spring break but also for baseball’s spring training. This is when the boys of summer gather to hone their skills and secure the team roster before going into the long, regular season. Because it is training, many of these multi-million-dollar athletes are more relaxed and more accessible to fans.
The Phillies were the first professional baseball team to leave the cold for training in Florida in 1889. Now, fifteen major league teams relocate to the state every spring, making up the so-called Grapefruit League. Fort Myers is the only city hosting two professional organizations, only five miles a part.
The view from a field box at JetBlue Park during a Red Sox Spring Training game — Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
Add to this fact that eight of the fifteen teams training in the Sunshine State are within a 2.5-hour drive up the west coast, and Fort Myers becomes a mecca for baseball fans. Florida’s own Devil Rays train 30 miles north in Port Charlotte, the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota and the Pittsburg Pirates in Bradenton.
Moving on up to Tampa Bay where the Yankees train, fans also have easy access to the Blue Jays in Dunedin and the Phillies in Clearwater. Or if you just sit tight in Fort Myers, all of these teams, and more, will eventually come to you.
The Red Sox train at the new JetBlue Park, also known as Fenway South. This stadium replaced the quant City of Palms Park for Spring Training in 2012. It holds 11,000 fans, including seats in the replica: Green Monster.
Hammond Stadium, where the Twins play, is in the middle of a $48-million renovation project, which will increase seating capacity for the 2014 season to 9,300. One of the best features of this park is the bullpen picnic pavilion, where fans can get great photos and autographs of their favorite sluggers.
Both stadiums charge for parking, so keep some cash on hand.
The 2014 season kicks off with a traditional match-up between the Twins and Red Sox at JetBlue Park on March 29th. Ticket prices throughout the season range from $39 to $156, but many sell out fast - especially games between the Red Sox and Yankees.
When buying tickets and hoping to catch the biggest names at bat, you have a better chance of seeing them on their home training turf and later in the season.
There are a number of hotels close to the Spring Training action, but be sure to check out the Holiday Inn near Gulf Coast Town Center and Crowne Plaza at The Bell Tower Shops. Both are also close to shopping and dining establishments, where it is not uncommon to catch players hanging out during their downtime.
The baseball parks are on the same corridor of each other as well as one of the favorite routes to the airport. If you are flying out of Southwest Florida International from the end of February to the end of March, check the home schedules for both the Twins and Red Sox. Plan for extra time or an alternate route if your departure is close to the opening pitch.
This is also a popular time for college students to flock to the beaches for spring break, so you may have to get creative to get the best flights. Look at Tampa as an alternative, and hit some games on your way south. Orlando is about 3.5 hours away, but teams you can catch on your way to Southwest Florida include the Tigers in Lakeland and the Braves in Kissimmee.