Spring Training Guide to Fort Myers

As I promised last Sunday, I have been working on two Spring Training Guides: a General Guide to Fort Myers and a more specific food guide (edit: the Fort Myers Culinary Guide is now up - 2/17/2012). This is the first one and I will cover the area, the town, Hammond Stadium and other places to catch Twins' spring training games. These guides could be useful to Red Sox fans' as well, but I am focusing on the Twins' point of view.

How to get there:

Unless you want to have a non-rental car with you (a good choice if you are a player or will be there for a month or so, or you live close to Fort Myers) flying is probably the best choice. There is a local airport (Southeast Florida International, code: RSW) served by a variety of airlines, but there are a total of about 75 flights a day into and out from there. Alternative airports are the larger Tampa International (TPA) and Miami International (MIA), about 2 and 2.5 hrs drive respectively. Orlando could also be a choice, but the drive is 3 hrs. The Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) is slightly over an hour drive from Fort Myers and slightly larger airport than the Southwest Florida International at Fort Myers.

If you want to drive, the fastest was to get there is via I-75 that goes through the town. From most points of the Midwest or Northwest, the best way is to catch I-75 around the Metro Atlanta area. From South and South West, I-10 hits I-75 in North Florida about an hour east of Jacksonville. From the East Coast, the best bet would be I-95 all the way to Daytona Beach, then I-4 through Orlando and catching I-75 at Tampa. If you live at the Twin Cities area, Minneapolis is about 1700 miles away from Fort Myers, which means about 3 days of 8 hours driving each, each way.

This is a map of South & Central Florida, to let you see where Fort Myers is situated in Florida (all maps and satellite images used in this post are screen shots from Bing maps) :

The Metro Area and the City:

Fort Myers (and, btw, it is not Ft. Myers) is the smallest of 3 cities in the Fort Myers-Cape Coral Metropolitan area. It has about 62,000 people, whereas the Metro has about 650,000 people most of them living in Cape Coral, a city planned and started in the late 50s as a huge retirement community. Interestingly enough the planners wanted to make every property close to water, so they created and extensive system of Canals. Cape Coral has more miles of navigable waterways than any city in the world, including Venice (Italy, not FL) and Amsterdam. About 400 miles of canals. Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island and Pine Island are popular beach front communities with a lot of beach-related tourism.

Here is a photo of the Cape Coral- Fort Myers metro:

An important note, especially to people from northern climates: Average temperatures in March are 80 for high and 60 for low, so make sure that you pack sunscreen, hats, glasses, shorts, t-shirts and a swimsuit, if you are so inclined.

The city of Fort Myers itself is very easily navigated. Here is a map of the City with the Twins' Spring Training Headquarters noted with an orange Marker:

You can click here for a larger picture in a new window.

The Airport is about 6 miles due west from Hammonds Stadium and the Spring Training Complex. Daniels Parkway (that becomes Cypress Lake Dr in the City) will take you from the Airport to the town and the Twins' complex. If you are on a budget and looking for a hotel, the ones on Daniels Parkway and that area west of I-75 offer good bargains and are fairly close to the Twins' Spring Training Complex. Another area for reasonable accommodations is the S. Cleveland Avenue North of Page Field.

Mostly everything can be found within a large triangle defined by S. Cleveland Ave to the West, Colonial Blvd to the North and the Ben C. Pratt Pkwy going Northeast to Southwest. The Twins' Spring training complex is on the South part of Ben C. Pratt Pkwy, just South of Daniels Pkwy.

The Twins' Spring Training Complex:

Here is a satellite image of the Lee County Sports Complex:

The complex is accessible via the Miracle on 34th St, either from Ben C Pratt Pkwy or from Plantation Rd. The best was to go is via the Parkway, esp. if it is busy. Miracle on 34th St divides the Twins' part of the complex from the four county softball field. Hammond Stadium, the site of the Twins Spring Training home games and the home of the Fort Myers Miracle (the Twins' high A, Florida State League affiliate) is on the Northeast corner of the Complex. Those parallel lines is the parking lot that can fit about 2000 cars. The stadium seats about 8000 people, so parking can be tight. In addition to Hammond Stadium, there are four full size practice fields and two infield practice fields. You can find Twins' major and minor league players working out in those fields throughout the day, so it might make sense to explore the whole complex or even catch (a free, other than parking) minor league game or two. Some Hotels offer free shuttle service to the Complex, so make sure you explore this option if available.

Hammonds Stadium:

Hammonds Stadium (and the Lee County Complex) was officially opened in the Spring of 1991. (The year of the Twins' last World Championship.) It is the home of Fort Myers Miracle, a franchise that has Jimmy Buffett and Bill Murray as part-owners. It has been recently renovated and is one of the largest Ball Parks in FSL, sitting up to 8500 people.

As with most minor league stadiums, most sitting is on the infield between the two dugouts. Hammonds Stadium has a nose bleed 2xx level as well and a small grassy field on short right field for fans to sit picnic style. Spring training tickets cost from $25-28 to $10 or so, depending on the opponent.

One thing that you MUST note: bottled water in unopened containers is permitted in the stadium, as are bags uo to 16x16x8 (think reusable grocery bags), so please take advantage of that. That said, the stadium has one of the best selections of beers, including more than 20 mainstream, import and microbrew beers and ales. They only sell Pepsi products as far as soft drinks go. I will have a food guide within a week, but I have to mention that there is an interesting variety of food, including pizza, sweet potato fries, fish tacos, deep fried nachos on a stick, and two artery clogging specialties: the Carolina Dog, a hot dog topped with pulled pork, baked beans and coleslaw and the Richard Simmons burger a behemoth featuring a 1/4 lb burger, a 1/4 lb chicken, a 1/4 lb brat, held together by 3 slices of cheese and six strips of bacon and contains more calories that the average developing world person eats in a week. There is an annual concession guide, for the stadium that yet has to be published.

Here is the seating guide from the Miracle web site. Also, this is a great article about Hammonds Stadium with a lot of detail about the ball park.

Other things:

Last but not least, the Twins do not play home games every day. So what to do in an off day? I would chose from one of the following two things: Either drive to the Complex trying to catch minor leaguers and non-traveling major leaguers in action in one (or more) of the fields, or drive to watch the Twins in an away game. Here is a map of Florida that shows all the Grapefruit League home team locations:

The Rays play their home games about half an hour away and the Pirates and Orioles about an hour away or so. The Red Sox play in Fort Myers. Those are the most convenient ball parks to visit.

The next installment will be a food guide (of sorts.) Please feel free to comment and/or share any experiences you had with Spring Training in Fort Myers.

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