I thought my husband was crazy when he bought our son a baseball tee when he turned two. He could barely reach that thing, but he walked right up to it and swung the bat as though he has been doing it for years. He definitely showed an avid interest in balls and ball sports as soon as he was old enough to grasp and throw one, and this was right up his alley.
My husband and I shared our love for baseball with our son, and he learned the names of the Texas Rangers roster as soon as he could form the words. It wasn’t long before he was asking us to pitch him the ball, and so there we were with a big foam bat and ball, playing baseball in the house. When the balls became real baseballs and the bats aluminum, we had to abandon the in-the-house play to save the lives of our television and ceiling fan.
Two years ago, we started toying with the idea of planning a Major League Baseball spring training trip, since my parents have a condominium in Ft. Myers, Florida, and we could visit them and attend games from there. This year, we finally did it, and we hit our vacation out of the ballpark:
I lost count of the hot dogs and bags of peanuts, but I CAN tell you that the Phillies stadium had the best lemonade.
Overall, the trip was excellent for our family –quality time, with the opportunity to get some sun and relax and watch a sport we love. We took a few days to shop, go to the beach, play miniature golf at castle- and pirate shop-themed courses, and relax with friends along the route. And mostly, we winged it. However, we learned a few things on this maiden voyage to Baseball Land, and you may benefit from these tips if you want to plan a similar trip:
- Map out your route and decide which direction you’re going to go, based on your schedule, flight opportunities, and favorite teams. There are four teams on the east coast of Florida, three in the Orlando area, and several up the west coast. We missed the four teams on the east coast this time.
- Check Southwest for the best flights to Florida, because there are easy non-stops to Tampa, Orlando, and Ft. Lauderdale, in particular. And then check against Orbitz.com to see if there is a different price or schedule that you prefer.
- Buy tickets ahead of time, especially if you want to see Yankees, Phillies, or Red Sox games. And definitely if you want to catch two of those teams playing each other.
- Every park has scalpers selling tickets. If money is no object and you want to give it a shot, you can almost always find tickets, particularly if you wait until just after the game starts.
- Don’t forget sunscreen: shade is not plentiful, and most of the games start at 1:05 PM. Staff will look inside your bags at the front gate, but I brought a backpack with sunscreen and water into every game, and no one had a problem with that. Add to your checklist: baseball hats, sunglasses, and cash – most ballparks took credit cards, but a few required cash for the concessions, and the ATM line was long.
I also have some tips on the ballparks we visited. My favorite park was our last one of our vacation: the Phillies’ Bright House Field in Clearwater. Ed Smith Stadium, the spring home of the Orioles, was a close second. Clean, beautiful, and friendly, these parks make it easy for me to want to take another vacation in Florida. Here’s what we noticed at each park:
- Parking is very easy and orderly, with a quick walk to the ballpark, $10. The first time we went to this stadium, we arrived about 20 minutes after the game started, no parking attendants were in sight, and we got lucky with a spot in the front row.
- For shade, sit in sections 201-207; these sections have an excellent view of the park. The grassy area in left field is soft and comfortable, but most definitely in the sun.
Near the grass seating, there is a small stand with root beer floats and soft-serve ice cream in helmet.
- Laid-back and friendly staff.
- Food highlights: Pita sandwiches, hot dogs, and stir-fries in a wok and then served in a half pineapple. Food-allergy friendly! All the stations we visited, full ingredients were available to check, which was a big deal with our son’s egg allergy.
- Huge parking lot surrounds the stadium, easy walk to the ballpark, $10.
Shade in the first baseline sections, 201+
- Excellent opportunities to see batting practice for free, even if you’re not attending a game
- Renovations completed in 2015 to add more shade and expanded gift shop
- Food highlights: bratwurst, hot dogs, and fried cheese curds. Big bar with drinks, food, and TV screens near right field. Yeungling beer. Very little information available for people with food allergies.
- Family restrooms with comfortable chairs for nursing moms.
- Picnic area in left field. Shady spots top 10 rows (ish) of sections 205-210 and too few rows of sections 216-220.
- Plenty of room for wheelchairs and strollers; nursing area/ family bathrooms.
- Very friendly and welcoming staff. Staff person took my son aside to show him the visiting bullpen. First Aid area and medical team standing by at all parks.
- Parking surrounds the stadium; $9.
- Palm trees in outfield area provide some shade and there is a third base lounge with a/c open to the public.
- Standing room lots of options with tables nearby.
- Food highlights: hot dogs, brats, pretzels. Lots of beer varieties and a few healthy options (hummus and yogurt near home plate gate). Only 10 minutes from the stadium, we had lunch at Demetrios Pizza and Grill, which had very good allergy information (gluten free and egg-free pizza dough available).
- Just walking into the ESPN Wide World of Sports is awe-inspiring
- Parking is a fairly lengthy walk to the ballpark, but the parking is well-organized; valet $20.
- Service is top notch – the ticket people at Will Call were excellent, and an usher handed my son a ball from batting practice before we even entered the gates
- We found it curious that there was not a replay board or information displayed on the pitcher during the game, especially since it’s an ESPN park.
- Honesty brings reward – they gave me $5 too much in change from a $20 at the ice cream station, and I realized it when we went to get a hot dog. Returning to the ice cream stand, I gave back their $5, and they offered me a free ice cream. I didn’t take it, because it was not my money, it was theirs… but it was very nice to be offered.
- Surprisingly, restrooms were not as updated as I had expected and I didn’t see any family bathrooms – however, it’s Disney, so it’s highly possible I missed them.
Seats behind home plate (section 115, row T) were fabulous and mostly in the shade for the evening game.
- We saw Mickey Mouse and Goofy in baseball uniforms.
- Food highlights: standard hamburger/ hot dog/ pretzels around the main base gates, but there was a bbq tent outside of right field. Very attentive to food allergies; a personal chef near the first base gates told us exactly what my son could and could not have. However, it would have been better to have access to a list of allergens or ingredients instead of having to wait for one contact person. Food runners in the seats were not allowed to take tips.
- Old school feel: bleacher seating and a Wrigley-style scoreboard. Plenty of stalls in the bathroom, but spare and, frankly, stinky. Didn’t see any family bathrooms.
- Lush, shady palm trees and grassy area near concessions.
- Hilarious pierogi race between innings.
- Parking was mostly in private driveways and businesses surrounding the field, ranging from $10-$20.
- Food highlights: Papa John’s pizza, burgers, hot dogs, pulled pork. Could not answer any of my allergy questions.
- Gorgeous, spacious, complete ballpark! It’s as if someone took a full-size MLB park and shrunk it down just a little Personality to spare.
- Parking a short walk down the street to a large lot; valet available.
- Shade In sections 108 (top half) and 109-104. Not much else.
- Plenty of family bathrooms, clearly marked.
- Several merchandise shops, with just about anything Phillies-themed that you can think of.
- Playground on the outside of the left field area was large, with cushioning on the ground and fenced-in all the way around.
- Food highlights: Lots and lots of food choices – Philly cheesesteaks, Philadelphia-style fries with Old Bay seasoning and cheese, Boars Head sandwiches, hot dogs, brats, funnel cakes, egg-free buns and ice cream. Frenchy’s bar/ Tiki hut in the outfield. Best lemonade in any park. Food-allergy friendly.
We have more ballparks to explore… stay tuned for the next trip.