2013 Spring Training Guide to Fort Myers Part II: The Baseball

This is the second of the three 2013 Spring Training Guides to Fort Myers that will appear here.  The first one was a guide on the logistics of how to get there and where to stay etc., including some ways to get there as inexpensively as possible, if that is a consideration.  The Logistics Guide can be found here.  The next guide will be about food and this one is about the reason people go to Fort Myers:  Spring Training baseball.

The Twins' Spring Training Complex:

Here is a satellite image of the Lee County Sports Complex (all images are screenshots from Bing Maps) :

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

During Twins' home games you have to pay for parking, however when the Twins are away, you can come into the complex and park for free and watch the Twins' minor leagues (you can do that on game days in the morning as well.)  The minor leaguers are using the 3 full fields further away from the Ballpark and the inflied half field right next to the clubhouse (the tin building). The practice field next to the ballpark is exclusively used by the MLB team.

There are 2 different camps take place there (the MLB and MiLB camp) but there is not a "dividing line" that folks who are cut from the big camp have to cross to get "down to the minor league" camp.  As you can see, all the fields are next to each other.   Often, non-travelling major leaguers (I saw Casilla and Carroll do that last season) play in Minor League games.  So do rehabing major leaguers.

The best way to watch the minor leaguers is to drive and park close to the clubhouse (there are not too many cars on non-game days, about as many as they are in the picture) and go between the 3 large fields.  Usually AAA plays on the North West most field and AA next to it.  With a little bit of imagination, one can sit between both fields and watch 2 games.  There are bleachers in the area (metal).  Bathrooms and a water fountain are in the south of the clubhouse building.   Bringing water is a must here because there are no concessions.  A lot of lower level or non-playing minor leaguers are around  and on the stands watching the AAA and AA games.  Actually pitchers are relegated to radar charting duty in tables in the common area behind the home plates and the fence, and standing around there is a good place to look at the radar readings.  You can also find Twin Cities Sports Celebrities on the stands:

The "dugouts" and "bullpens" are just fenced in areas so you can get a great look of the Twins' minor leaguers.  All minor league games are free.  The new Twins' lease will provide for a dorm to be build in the area, but I am not certain on its wearabouts, but likely South of the fields and just west of the county softball fields.

Hammond Stadium:

Hammond 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 $45 to $10 or so, depending on the opponent and the seating.  As far as tickets go, there are ticket outlets just outside the Park.  You can preorder tickets over the web, or you can frequently obtain them from locals in the parking lot who are not interesting in attending the game.

One thing that you MUST note: bottled water in unopened containers is permitted in the stadium, as are bags up 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. The best variety of beer, including beer sold only for Twins' and Miracle's games there, is at the bar at the far left (third base) end of the outside concourse, right before the bullpen

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.  Also, here is a must see panoramic view of the seating are a from last year's Spring Training.  The Twins' dugout is on the third base side and the bullpen on the end of the bleachers in short left.  The new lease provides for major renovations to the Ballpark including a catwalk area at the Outfield.  Not sure when this will start and whether it will be around for the 2013 Spring Training. 

Little known fact:  If you go to the Spring Training and the home of the Fort Myers Miracle and expect to find Miracle merchandise in the gift shop, you will be disappointed.  During Spring Training, there are only Twins' merchandise.  However, they have Miracle merchandise.  If you go there in a day where there are no games (the ballpark is open) and go to the gift shop and ask, they will bring you some.

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 (my favorite choice) 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. 

Next:  The Food Guide.

No comments: