There's nothing like being in Florida for spring training. It offers the chance to see your home team in a more laid-back practice mode. Games are low-key, players are sometimes willing to greet fans and the weather's warm.
Ready to pack your bags for the Sunshine State? Here are a few things to know about seeing each of the Grapefruit League teams’ games, most of which are scheduled from February 21 to March 24, and clustered in the Tampa and Palm Beach areas.
CoolToday Park in Venice
The Braves’ brand-new stadium, 35 miles south of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, is cool (like its name): One nice feature is a 360-degree concourse with some drink rails set aside for fans to stand and watch the game from a variety of locations. There's also the Tomahawk Tiki Bar and a grassy berm with 1,800 general admission seats. Nearby is Venice Beach, offering a handsome downtown and boutiques.
Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota
The O's park has an appealing old-time feel that will remind you of Camden Yards, with classic Maryland crabcakes among the concessions. Sarasota has some great restaurants (try Owen's Fish Camp) and is known for its arts scene and attractions such as the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.
Boston Red Sox
Jet Blue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers
A statue of Hall of Famer Ted Williams greets arriving visitors, who can browse all kinds of T-shirts, caps and memorabilia when an adjacent street is closed off before games. The relaxed stadium is modeled on Fenway Park, complete with its own Green Monster. And you're only a short drive from the beautiful beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Island.
Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland
In a small city between Orlando and Tampa, the stadium was renovated in 2017 and features a 360-degree walkway that allows fans to circle the entire facility. There's also a grassy berm beyond the outfield that you can sit or lie down on while you enjoy the game and, perhaps, a beer or two. Explore Munn Park Historic District in Lakeland, known for its early 1900s architecture and antique shopping.
Houston Astros and Washington Nationals
FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach
The two teams (who met in the last World Series, with a Nats’ win) share a spring training complex, which features 30-foot sculptures of each team's logo — popular selfie spots, naturally. Many fans spread out on the grassy lawns beyond the outfield fences. Nearby Clematis Street in West Palm Beach offers plenty of restaurants and bars, many with outdoor patios for balmy winter evenings.
Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals
Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in Jupiter
The Marlins and the Cards both play their exhibition games in Jupiter, which is about 16 miles north of West Palm Beach. The most lively area of the park is the standing-room party deck down the right field line, and the big (in both senses of the word) food items include the Super Dean Dogs — giant hot dogs served in a pretzel bun. Or try the Chicago Cubs Hater Dog, which is a Chicago-style frankfurter with celery salt, onions, vivid-green relish, mustard, tomato, hot peppers and a pickle spear. There are several casual restaurants with nice outdoor patios along Jupiter's Loxahatchee River, and check out the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, which dates to 1860.
Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers
This lovely stadium's exterior is said to have been modelled on Churchill Downs Racetrack in Kentucky. You can opt for lawn seating areas along the right field line and behind the left field fence. If it's still on the menu this training season (and you haven't eaten for a few weeks), try the Richard Simmons Burger, which comes topped with bratwurst, chicken breast, cheese and three strips of bacon. Don't miss a visit to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in central Fort Myers, where Henry Ford and Thomas Edison would go to flee northern weather.
New York Mets
Clover Park in Port St. Lucie
About 50 miles north of West Palm Beach, the Mets’ stadium has been in the midst of a $57 million renovation, the first phase of which is supposed to be completed by the team's arrival on February 10. Some observers have worried it won't be ready for the new season, but the games are set to go on. The upgrades are said to include new seating, a revamped concourse and more. And the town has 21 miles of quiet beaches to enjoy between games.
New York Yankees
George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa
It's the Yankees’ 25th year practicing at this field named after the famed former Yankees owner (though its often called GMS Field). It replicates part of the team's home stadium in the Bronx, with lacy filigree designs, and has a large, stylized “NY” logo image where fans stop for a requisite selfie. Tampa's lively downtown offers some tasty restaurant options and a lovely waterfront park.
Spectrum Field in Clearwater
Roughly 20 minutes west of Tampa, Spectrum Field features — like so many of these parks — an outfield berm or grassy area where you can recline on the lawn and watch the games, and picnic tables for lunching on the terrace. Also look for Frenchy's Tiki Bar, named after a local fellow who owns a number of casual restaurants in the area offering, among other things, Philly cheesesteaks. After the game, Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach has beautiful sunsets.
LECOM Park in Bradenton
Just north of Sarasota, this is a wonderful ballpark, with lots of old-style charm and stellar sight lines. There's a nice bar in right-center field, as well as appearances by the famous Pirate Parrot. You're only a short drive from beautiful, laid-back Anna Maria Island, with fun shops, lovely beaches and the oceanside Sandbar Restaurant.
Tampa Bay Rays
Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte
The park features berms on both the left and right field sides, and — a staple at these parks — a tiki hut bar. It's right next to the entrance to the 380-acre Tippecanoe Environmental Park, full of walking trails and wildlife. Nearby Punta Gorda is home to a roughly half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.
Toronto Blue Jays
TD Ballpark in Dunedin
About 30 minutes west of Tampa, the park that was once known as Dunedin Stadium (among other things) wraps up a $100 million face-lift and expansion this winter that includes a new boardwalk for pedestrians behind the outfield fence and an air-conditioned bar on the third base line. The stadium is only a short walk from the boutiques and restaurants in downtown Dunedin.