It seems like only yesterday that the Boston Red Sox were being crowned as the 2018 World Series champions. Yet another glorious year with The Boys of Summer is almost upon us with spring training kicking off.
When planning your Florida spring training trip to preview the 2019 Major League Baseball season, don't overlook the journey itself. For denizens of the North, it is a chance to escape the harsh realities of winter and there isn't a better place to do that than Florida. It's a chance to hit Florida's beaches and bars, find the freshest seafood, spend the day at one of its many theme parks or explore its thriving arts scene. The list of things to do is endless.
Spring training baseball sites are in close proximity to each other all over Central Florida and Florida's west coast. You can follow your favorite team throughout the Grapefruit League and not miss a beat for things to do outside of the ballparks.
This year marks the final spring training season for the Atlanta Braves in Orlando. The Braves will play all but one home game at Orlando's Champion Stadium this year before moving down Florida's west coast to North Port in Sarasota County and state-of-the-art CoolToday Park in 2020. In addition to the ballpark, Mike Dunn, Atlanta Braves vice president of Florida operations, noted the logistical advantages of having six other teams' spring training sites within one hour's drive of North Port.
The Braves' current Orlando stadium is centrally located for Florida's baseball visitors. "It’s easy to get to West Coast and East Coast (Florida) beaches," Dunn said. "If you want golf, go karts, skydiving, it’s all right there."
"We’re a home base for a good spring trip visit," said Kris Keprios, senior tourism sales and marketing manager of Visit Central Florida. "Fans can stay central and follow the team around the state. We’re an hour drive from the (Philadelphia) Phillies (spring training complex) in Clearwater, so you can do baseball and the beach. We’re a great location to do things from."
And of course Lakeland, home of the Detroit Tigers for 85 years, has much to offer, including Hollis Garden, a lakefront botanical garden featuring neoclassical architecture, fountains and a variety of plants.
"There’s Hollis Garden. In North Lakeland, there’s Safari Wilderness. It’s like a personalized safari. It’s a really cool experience. It’s small and intimate," Keprios said.
"For (Detroit) Tigers fans the best bet is 10 minutes from the field in downtown, there’s a number of restaurants, bars and breweries. They can make a whole day of it. The newest one is Mojo Federal. It’s a barbecue place, but it’s like a bar and it’s got a cool atmosphere. I like to call it high-end barbecue. There’s Harrys Seafood Bar And Grill. For a quick bite before there’s (The Purple Onion Deli & Grill). There’s a great Irish Pub called Molly McHugh’s (for nightlife)," Keprios added.
Tampa/St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Dunedin
Across the street from Tropicana Field, the regular season home of the Tampa Bay Rays, Ferg’s Sports Bar takes up almost two blocks, has more than 90 TVs and offers a large patio perfect for congregating before and after games. Four-legged friends are welcome at adjoining Ferg's Dog Park & Grill.
In Tampa, there is more excitement than ever surrounding Busch Gardens, which is celebrating its 60th year. There are deals on park admission, food festivals and concerts, including two complimentary beers for those 21 and older at its Serengeti Overlook Restaurant and Garden Gate Café, in addition to its thrilling lineup of rides, wildlife and so much more.
Clearwater Beach has been consistently ranked as one of the area's best beaches and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a great way to get up close to dolphins, turtles and stingrays, along with other marine life.
Before or after watching the Phillies play at Clearwater's Spectrum Field, Robert Stretch, manager of community engagement and media for the minor league's Clearwater Threshers baseball team, recommends a few restaurants for fans to try.
"Lenny’s (Restaurant) on U.S. 19 for breakfast and the original Hooters (restaurant) on Gulf to Bay for wings and burgers are two of our Philadelphia spring training fan favorite partners," Stretch said.
The 37-mile Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail from Dunedin to Tarpon Springs is perfect for walking, jogging or biking, and Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island state parks offer pristine beaches and natural surroundings. The Dunedin Brewery offers craft beer and live entertainment after a long day of activity.
"Realize Bradenton celebrates the importance of Pittsburgh Pirates spring training to the City of Bradenton," said Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, a nonprofit organization that promotes redevelopment and economic growth in downtown Bradenton.
LECOM Park, originally built in 1923, is the oldest stadium used for spring training in the nation. It has undergone a number of significant renovations during the past three decades to provide fans modern amenities while maintaining a classic ballpark feel. "Bradenton has had a long love affair with baseball," Isham noted.
That love affair extends to spring training fans and travelers. It's easy to find local shops and galleries downtown and in the unique Village of the Arts, which Isham says "is just a baseball's throw from the stadium."
Take advantage of the 1.5-mile Riverwalk, overlooking the Manatee River, and all that it offers, or head down to Old Main Street to discover restaurants like O'bricks, housed in two of Bradenton's oldest structures. Revel in its weekend brunch, chef-driven entrees including chorizo scallops and specials like Martini Monday and Wine Down Wednesday.
Utilize the Walk Bradenton website on your smartphone, which highlights the best of Bradenton with GPS to guide the way. It's an interactive website that showcases Bradenton's unique mix of assets, identifying more than 58 pieces of public art, 25 historic sites and 145 local businesses and restaurants.
The Baltimore Orioles call Ed Smith Stadium home and reporter Rich Dubroff, a spring training veteran, has been covering the O's for close to a decade. He recently expounded on some of his favorite Sarasota spots for BaltimoreBaseball.com, while noting the beautiful beaches, impressive arts community and dazzling stores.
"There are many good restaurants, and over the last nine years, I’ve discovered a number of them," said Dubroff. "Perhaps my favorite is Dry Dock Waterfront Grill (in Longboat Key), which I learned about on my first visit in 2010 and have visited regularly since. It features stone crabs and seafood."
Dubroff has more favorites.
"For meat eaters, I recommend Cannon’s, a cool out-of-the-way steak house and Patrick’s, which features half-price burgers on Monday. Yoder’s, an Amish market and restaurant, features excellent fried chicken and home-baked cakes and pies. You can also find me at Duffy’s Sports Grill, which has dozens of TVs for sporting events, including tennis and curling."
The Braves' Dunn, ahead of his team's 2020 move to North Port, has a favorite of his own, Sharkey’s on the Pier in Venice—south of Sarasota and east of North Port—which offers tantalizing fresh seafood.
Head outdoors for parks, preserves and beaches including Caspersen Beach, known as the "Shark Tooth Capital of the World," in Venice; Myakka River State Park in Sarasota County; and Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in North Port.
Just like the bulk of major league baseball clubs, the Tampa Bay Rays also head south, to Port Charlotte. That relationship is one the area cherishes.
“Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach is proud to serve as the spring training site of the Tampa Bay Rays," said Sean Doherty, interim tourism director of Punta Gorda/Engelwood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau in Charlotte County. "Over the past 10 years serving as the event’s host destination, baseball has become an integral feature of Charlotte County’s tourism offerings which has included minor league baseball as well as multiple youth amateur tournaments each year."
When fans aren't enjoying Rays spring training action at Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte and surrounding areas, including Fort Myers just to the south, have more than enough to entertain the whole family.
For a day on the links, the Riverwood Golf Club delivers an enjoyable par-72 course in Port Charlotte that uses its environment throughout the round, promising a tour through pines and wetlands, while Port Charlotte Beach Park offers a day of relaxation on the beach or poolside.
Get an in-depth look at Babcock Ranch, the world's first solar-powered sustainable city, through Babcock Ranch Eco Tours. Head out on a walking trail to take a swamp buggy tour that brings the outdoors to you. Other places to take in nature include the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center and the Peace River Wildlife Center.
Florida Tracks and Trails in Punta Gorda will get your motor revving with paintball and motorcross tracks, in addition to a freshwater beach.
Ditch ballpark fare and spend an evening of elegant dining at The Perfect Caper, where fresh is the buzzword for selections like the steamed mussels, Moroccan spiced lamb and shrimp tempura.
2019 Spring Training Sites