It feels like Florida has been the home to Major League Baseball’s spring training league since the dawn of time. Actually, Hot Springs in Arkansas was the original “hot spot” for spring training beginning in the 1890s. Things gradually shifted to Florida in the early 20th century when the Chicago Cubs trained in Tampa and the Cleveland Indians played in Pensacola.
Over the years, teams have come and gone from Florida, leaving behind the tales of baseball legends who have graced Florida’s balmy spring weather. Here are our favorite attractions at the stadiums where those teams still train each spring.
Atlanta Braves (North Port)
The scoop: Is the ballpark in Venice or North Port? We’re not sure, but if you head 35 miles south of Sarasota, you’ll likely bump into the stadium, which opened in 2019 for the final spring training game of the season.
Big attraction: The area around Venice and North Port is probably best known for its outdoor parks. Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park (pronounce it slowly) features four miles of trails along a blackwater creek that’s lined with century-old oak trees. Hike them or ride your horse – if you prefer to camp, you’ll need a reservation. The park is open 6 a.m. to sunset.
Baltimore Orioles (Sarasota)
The scoop: Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota had been home to the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds since it was built in 1989. Since 2010, the Orioles have called it home.
Big attraction: The facility features 7,100 seats that were recycled from the team’s regular home at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Baseball fans are typically drawn to the greater Tampa Bay area in the spring because the region features a slew of other teams a close drive away including the Toronto Blue Jays (Dunedin), Pittsburgh Pirates (Bradenton), Philadelphia Phillies (Clearwater) and New York Yankees (Tampa).
Boston Red Sox (Fort Myers)
The scoop: The Sox draw huge crowds to JetBlue Park, an 11,000-seat stadium that opened in 2012. Like the team’s home stadium in Boston, its spring training home has its own version of the Green Monster wall in left field.
Big attraction: When the game is over, visit the Florida homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Or take a short drive to Sanibel Island, where the beaches are lined with amazing shells you can take home.
Detroit Tigers (Lakeland)
The scoop: The Tigers have called Lakeland home since 1934 and have played at Joker Marchant Stadium since 1966.
Big attraction: This really is the premier spring training stadium now in Florida, featuring more perks that we can list here, including all-you-can-eat picnic areas, shaded seating, a Margaritaville bar and the 34 Club, with indoor bar and seating, an all-inclusive buffet and outdoor padded seating for 200-plus fans.
Houston Astros and Washington Nationals (West Palm Beach)
The scoop: The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals share The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, opened for its inaugural season in 2017.
Big attraction: The 160-acre facility includes a city park featuring a splash park and a 1.8-mile walking trail. Nearby attractions include the Norton Museum of Art and Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society.
Philadelphia Phillies (Clearwater)
The scoop: The Phillies have been training in Clearwater since 1948, but moved into their modern home at Spectrum Field in 2004.
Big attraction: Roomy seats, concession stands that feature some classic Philly foods and a tiki bar in the outfield. If you’re still hungry after the game, head to Capogna’s Dugout – serving pizza, hoagies and burgers – a local fixture for decades. And the very first Hooters restaurant is just a few miles away as well.
Pittsburgh Pirates (Bradenton)
The scoop: The Pirates’ spring home -formerly known as McKechnie Field – was originally built in 1923, providing an authentic old-time feel to the stadium. Recent renovations have improved the sight lines, seats, restrooms and concessions.
Big attraction: The classic atmosphere is really the true attraction here. Outside of Fenway or Wrigley Field, there are few if any reminders of what baseball used to be. If you crave modern conveniences, head to the tiki bar and fan plaza.
Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals (Jupiter)
The scoop: Roger Dean is one of two stadiums in Florida to host two Major League Baseball teams during spring training. Teams share the main stadium for games, but maintain separate facilities for practice and training facilities.
Big attraction: Cleanliness. Fans rave about it at Roger Dean. That makes me second-guess the idea of going to a game in Miami or St. Louis.
Minnesota Twins (Fort Myers)
The scoop: The CenturyLink Sports Complex is massive, serving as a home stadium to the Twins as well as housing five more playing fields, a player development academy and four softball fields.
Big attraction: A beer garden and picnic pavilion make Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex a popular park with fans. After the game, nature-friendly attractions such as the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve and Manatee Park attract fans. Sanibel Island, with its shell-rich beaches, is also just a quick drive away.
New York Mets (St. Lucie)
Location: Clover Park, 31 Piazza Drive, Port St. Lucie, FL 34986 (More on the Mets spring training)
The scoop: Clover Park – the Mets’ facility has had many name changes since opening in 1988 – has been undergoing renovations during the off season, though local officials and Mets execs assure fans the stadium will be ready for the 2020 spring season.
Big attraction: We’ll have to wait and see when the fully renovated park is open.
New York Yankees (Tampa)
The scoop: Named after the longtime owner of the Yankees who called Tampa his home, the stadium is one of the largest in the Grapefruit League and features the largest Yankee souvenir shop in the Southeast.
Big attraction: Yankee legends – now retired – are often spotted in the stands during games. Food options seem to multiply each season. Steinbrenner Field is located near some iconic eateries in Tampa. Residents love the Cuban fare at nearby La Teresita. Barbecue fans will find their personal heaven at Jimbo’s Pit Bar BQ. Speaking of heaven, shopping bliss can be found nearby at International Plaza, where some of Tampa Bay’s toniest shopping and dining destinations are located.
Tampa Bay Rays (Port Charlotte)
The scoop: This stadium was home to the Texas Rangers until 2002, when they left for Arizona. It was refurbished for the Rays, who have made it their home since 2010. Thankfully the grandstand’s roof keeps most fans in the shade during day games.
Big attraction: Aside from the Chick-Fil-A and BBQ pork sandwiches at the concession stands, the best attraction is next door. Charlotte Sports Park is connected to Tippecanoe Environmental Park, which features walking trails, a boardwalk, a canoe/kayak launch and other opportunities to interact with nature.
Toronto Blue Jays (Dunedin)
The scoop: The Blue Jays have made their spring home in Dunedin (a sleepy but increasingly hip suburb in Tampa Bay) since 1977, but big changes have been afoot lately. TD Ballpark was renovated in 2019, increasing the number of seats from 5,500 to 8,500. The stadium will also be home to the Blue Jays for the start of the regular season in 2021 until COVID-19 travel restrictions between the United States and Canada are eased.
Big attraction: Nature’s assets abound around Dunedin. Caladesi Island State Park and Honeymoon Island State Park offer natural and pristine beaches, while craft-beer fans should head to Dunedin Brewery, the state’s oldest craft brewery.