A Guide To Spring Training Travel, Grapefruit League Style

Mar 10, 2018

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There is hope for every team when spring training commences, even the woebegone Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates, who recently gave away their best players for a mere bag of shells. There is also endless sun, a plethora of games to catch and a number of important decisions to make in Florida’s baseball paradise. If you’re a fan who wants to go see their team train, now’s the time to go — with a few pointers from us.

Think about where you’ll spend most of your time before you book your hotel

The big mistake fans typically make is focusing on a beachfront resort. However, that’s not the best idea if you’re like most folks who travel south to catch baseball. The games are normally priority. They are held during the day, usually at 1:05 pm.  On average the game concludes around 4 pm. None of the ballparks are on the beach, so save money on the beachfront hotel and spend instead on drinks and dinner as the sun goes down. Real estate is all about location, which takes us to Tampa, which is a very good place to be in March for those captivated by the Grapefruit League.

The Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel is grand, comfortable and centrally located. It’s just a short car or Uber ride (5.8 miles) from Steinbrenner Field, which is the spring home of the New York Yankees. The Waterside is also just a half-hour ride across the Courtney Campbell causeway to Spectrum Field, where the Philadelphia Phillies play, and Dunedin Stadium, the Toronto Blue Jays’ field. It’s also just 40 minutes to Lakeland to catch the Tigers at Publix Field, 45 minutes to Bradenton for those who would like to experience the Pirates at beautiful LECOM Park, an hour to the Braves park at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista and just over an hour to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota for an Orioles game. If you’re like most sports fans and you’re insatiable, the Marriott Waterside is a two-minute walk to the Amalie Arena, home of the NHL’s elite Tampa Bay Lightning.

For those who would like to watch either the Astros or the Nationals at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, enjoy comfort and quirkiness at the Chesterfield Palm Beach, a relaxing English-style hotel, which is 50 minutes from the Mets park, First Data Field, in Port St. Lucie.

Hotel Indigo in Fort Myers is a pretty getaway just a few miles from Jet Blue Stadium, were the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins play. It’s just a 35-minute spin to witness the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte.

Don’t restrict yourself to ballpark fare

The menu is much more limited in Florida stadiums than it is in the average major league park. However, there are so many bistros in the Sunshine state that are well worth visiting. The West Tampa Sandwich Shop is a must. It’s inexpensive and excellent.

Try the “honey Obama,” named after the president who ate it here, which is a traditional Cuban sandwich with tomatoes and lettuce; the robust Western omelette; and the empanada de Guayaba y queso, which is filled with guava and cheese.  The annual question is whether to deal with the wait at Lenny’s Restaurant in Clearwater. Parking spots are few and the lines, particularly the morning of a game, are lengthy. However, once the complimentary basket of danishes and the strong cups of coffee are served, all is forgiven. The redneck benedict (country sausage patties served over a biscuit with two poached eggs slathered in country sausage gravy) and the turkey reuben (white meat turkey, Swiss and sauerkraut, $11.25) are delicious.

Those in West Palm Beach would be remiss if they passed on Pistache French Bistro. PFB is a hip cafe with an array of seafood and vegetarian options. If you’re in the Fort Myers area, check out Ford’s Garage for burgers and beer. The High Octane Burger (black Angus with pepper jack cheese, guacamole, pepper jack cheese and homemade chipotle ketchup) is awfully tempting.

Bottoms up after the last out

Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club is just that, a speakeasy. The swanky Tampa bar requires a password, which you can obtain by calling ahead. The atmosphere is definitely Prohibition-era, down to the clothing worn by the staff, and the drinks are stiff, particularly the Georgia Julep.

The World of Beer kind of says it all. The West Palm watering hole, part of chain, offers brews from around the globe. The World Famous Cigar Bar in Fort Myers offers strong libations and a plus, a walk-in humidor. You’re 250 miles from Havana but it doesn’t feel that far away.

Have some fun away from the diamond

Driving the Tampa – St. Petersburg roads isn’t especially fun. However, the Gulf is wide open, and behind the wheel of a speed boat, it’s exhilarating. Try Speed Boat Adventures in St. Pete for a chance to do something you probably don’t do at home: drive a speed boat. In Fort Myers, if you’re up for some history and the sight of an idyllic 21-acre botanical garden, the Edison and Ford Winter Estates is up your alley: the adjacent winter homes of Thomas Alva Edison and Henry Ford are off the banks of the scenic Caloosahatchee River.

On the other coast, you can go snorkel at pretty Peanut Island in West Palm Beach. The 79-acre  island also houses a Cold War-era bunker built for President John F. Kennedy, whose family had an estate nearby.

Featured photo of spring training game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field on March 04, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

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