Around this time I should be writing a recap of the action that took place in the Florida State League in the month of April. Instead, I will be writing a different type of article given the circumstances.
The Florida State League has 12 teams and 11 ballparks; Jupiter and Palm Beach are the only two teams in all of Minor League Baseball that share a ballpark (besides in the GCL and AZL). This list will be from a fan perspective. I also want to make clear that all of the FSL ballparks are excellent. Just because a ballpark is near the bottom of the list does not make it a “bad” ballpark.
I must admit that I have not been to three of the stadiums in the FSL. Here are some words about them:
TD Ballpark, Dunedin, FL, Home of the Dunedin Blue Jays and Spring Home of the Toronto Blue Jays
I have tickets on my nightstand for the Rays vs. Blue Jays Spring Training game on March 14, 2020…MLB cancelled Spring Training two days prior. This would have been my first time at the Blue Jays‘ facility, so unfortunately I cannot rank this ballpark. It was just renovated too so I am sure that it would have been a very good experience.
CoolToday Park, Northport, FL, Home of the Florida Fire Frogs and Spring Home of the Atlanta Braves
Formerly the Brevard County Manatees, the Florida Fire Frogs played their first three seasons at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL. It looks worse than it really is because I actually enjoyed going to games there. You could sit very close to the action and it had a very laid back vibe. It did lack a lot of amenities that you would find in newer stadiums. Also, the Fire Frogs were then kicked out of Kissimmee at the end of the 2019 season, and were in limbo for most of the offseason. They finally found a new, temporary home for the 2020 season at the Braves Spring Training ballpark. I had plans to see the Fire Frogs in Northport this July, but that is up in the air. With that being the case, I cannot rank this park either. If the Fire Frogs were still in Kissimmee, that stadium would likely be at the bottom of the list.
George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, FL, Home of the Tampa Tarpons and Spring Home of the New York Yankees
Final ballpark of three that I have not been to. It is supposed to be a very nice stadium. I have never been though, so I cannot rank it. I plan on going in 2021.
Now for the rankings:
8. Clover Field, Port St. Lucie, FL, Home of the St Lucie Mets and Spring Home of the New York Mets
St Lucie is not bad per se, but nothing really stands out either. The right field berm is a nice place to watch a game from. They made some big renovations during the 2019 season that are now complete. They added a left field seating area, among other additions. I don’t hate it by any means. I go to a bunch of games here each year, but I just feel like it gets dwarfed by some of the newer ballparks in Florida. For fans trying to get autographs, this ballpark is a nightmare. Their netting setup is really inconvenient for it. I am very pro-netting, but I also think that there should be a way to roll it up before games so fans can interact with players. St Lucie’s netting does not have that functionality.
7. Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, Jupiter, FL, Home of the Jupiter Hammerheads and Palm Beach Cardinals and Spring Home of the Miami Marlins and St Louis Cardinals
Jupiter’s netting does do that! They added netting during Spring Training this year that does not hinder the fan experience too much. Employees roll the netting up pregame for fans to meet the players and then roll it down to protect them during the game. Besides that, it is a decent ballpark. It kind of falls under the same umbrella that St Lucie does where nothing really stands out. They do have a Party Deck for large groups. I still really enjoy attending games here, but, objectively speaking, the newer stadiums have more amenities. Jupiter may soar up these rankings soon, however, as they announced a plan for major renovations that included outfield seating.
6. LECOM Park, Bradenton, FL, Home of the Bradenton Marauders and Spring Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates
Bradenton is a good ballpark. I like the boardwalk in the outfield. The autograph opportunities were intriguing when I went a few years ago. There really is not anything negative that comes to mind about this stadium. It underwent significant renovations in 2012-2013, so it is even better than it once was too. Bradenton is also the only FSL ballpark to currently have MiLB.TV, so they definitely get some points for that.
5. Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte, FL, Home of the Charlotte StoneCrabs and Spring Home of the Tampa Bay Rays
Charlotte is great. They have berms down both foul lines. They have an outfield boardwalk. Their food selection is very solid. They have a Rays themed playground for kids. The autograph opportunities are also up to the mark. I like this ballpark quite a bit.
4. Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland, FL, Home of the Lakeland Flying Tigers and Spring Home of the Detroit Tigers
I went to Lakeland for the first time in 2019 and was not disappointed. They have a boardwalk. They have a bar in left field. It’s an outstanding stadium overall. Their most recent renovations were in 2017. The one thing that kept me from moving it further up the list was the autograph opportunities. Their netting setup is similar to St Lucie, so it is tough for fans to get autographs. Even with that being so, it is still a great place to catch a game.
3. Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex, Fort Myers, FL, Home of the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels and Spring Home of the Minnesota Twins
I really like this ballpark. There is just something about it. They have a boardwalk in the outfield, two berms, adequate food selection, etc. The autograph opportunities are wonderful. You can sit very close to the action. It is an exceptional ballpark.
2. Spectrum Field, Clearwater, FL, Home of the Clearwater Threshers and Spring Home of the Philadelphia Phillies
Clearwater is amazing. This could have very easily been the best ballpark in the FSL if it was not for the existence of a somehow superior ballpark. It’s kind of like Wander Franco vs. Jo Adell for top prospect in baseball. Most years, Adell would be more than talented enough to be the top prospect in baseball, except in 2020 where a superhuman prospect exists. Speaking of which, there’s Franco in the on deck circle of the picture. Anyway, the point is that Adell is still really good, as is Clearwater. They are known for the Tiki Bar in left field, a very popular spot. They have a berm in right field. The food selection is terrific. I got a Philly Cheesesteak when I went in 2019. And, the autographs opportunities are superb as well. This is a marvelous ballpark.
Before we get to the best ballpark, I want to mention some ballparks in Florida that don’t qualify for the Florida State League rankings but are still great.
Holman Stadium at Jackie Robinson Training Complex at Historic Dodgertown, Vero Beach, FL
Vero Beach has hosted one FSL game each year for the past six years. They host the Jackie Robinson Celebration Game annually on April 15. The St Lucie Mets are always the home team. A well known aspect of the stadium is the open-air dugouts. They are really interesting. Jackie Robinson played Spring Training with the Dodgers in Vero Beach back in the day, hence the complex’s name. It is a historic spot. It has a similar vibe to “The Jack” in Daytona, which is a very positive thing. I highly recommend going to the Jackie Robinson Celebration Game. It truly is an awesome experience!
Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, FL, Spring Home of the Baltimore Orioles
Fitteam Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach, FL, Spring Home of the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros
jetBlue Park at Fenway South, Fort Myers, FL, Spring Home of the Boston Red Sox
All three of these ballparks have something in common: they host Spring Training but not FSL. Sarasota and West Palm Beach are fantastic! They would be in my Top 3 if they hosted an FSL team. Sarasota is brilliant, definitely one of my favorite Spring Training ballparks. West Palm Beach opened in 2017 and has been another one of my favorites ballparks ever since. Ft Myers is nice too. Every Red Sox fan I have talked to about it loves it. I was not blown away when I went, but I definitely see the appeal. It is cool how the players can train in a ballpark with the same quirky dimensions as historic Fenway Park.
Without further ado, here is the best ballpark in the Florida State League:
1. Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Daytona Beach, FL, Home of the Daytona Tortugas, Class A+ Affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds
Where do I begin? Daytona is unequivocally the best ballpark in the FSL. Heck, I like it better than some MLB parks I have been to. That’s how good it is. It is named Jackie Robinson Ballpark because it is where Jackie Robinson played his first ever integrated game. The ballpark opened in 1914 and has hosted MLB since 1920. It has undergone several renovations over the years. “The Jack” has a museum in the concourse about the legend himself, Jackie Robinson. There is truly not a bad seat in the house. This is also the best stadium in the FSL for autographs. But the big reason it is the best ballpark in the FSL is…hard to put into words. It just has a different feel than any other stadium I have been to. You can feel the history when you enter the ballpark. There is a really good vibe there. It is just such a perfect place to watch baseball.