Ranking the Top 10 Spring Training Stadiums

Benjamin Klein@BenjaminJKleinContributor IIIFebruary 23, 2013

Ranking the Top 10 Spring Training Stadiums

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    Spring training isn’t just about players getting ready for the regular season. It's also about the sunshine in Florida and Arizona, while most of the United States is still getting snow.

    Several teams have magnificent spring facilities that include batting cages, practice fields and, of course, the actual stadium.

    Creating a comfortable environment for fans to watch the rising stars of each organization is important to every club. That’s shown in the time and money the teams put into these complexes.

    Spring training is a time for fans to take in a casual game and witness fierce positional battles. Once Opening Day rolls around, it’s all business, all the time.

    Let’s take a look at the 10 best spring training stadiums.

10. Champion Stadium

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    Team: Atlanta Braves

    Opened: 1997

    Location: Kissimmee, Fla.

    Capacity: 9,500

    With the third-largest stadium in the Grapefruit League, the Atlanta Braves have one of the best facilities in baseball. There’s a great atmosphere thanks to the legion of diehard Braves fans, and it’s certainly a great place to watch an exhibition game. If it were bigger, there’s no reason why it couldn’t host a regular-season game.

    One problem fans might have, however, is the bright Florida sun. Don’t expect a ton of shade when attending a Braves spring training game because you won’t be able to find much. Nearly every seat will get hit directly by the sun, as there are only a few sections that have some sort of awning over them.

    Another issue with Champion Stadium is the inability to customize concession orders. Almost all of the options on the menus are baskets, meaning that fries are included. Basically, you can’t really get just a hot dog or just a hamburger. You have to get fries with it too.

    Champion Stadium is also the new spring home to B.J. and Justin Upton, Atlanta’s two biggest acquisitions this past winter. The Braves’ biggest storyline coming into 2013 is who will play third base: Chris Johnson or Juan Francisco. Whoever wins that position battle will have the duty of replacing longtime regular Chipper Jones.

9. Hohokam Stadium

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    Team: Chicago Cubs

    Opened: 1997

    Location: Mesa, Ariz.

    Capacity: 13,074

    Hohokam Stadium has been the spring training facility of the Chicago Cubs since the ballpark opened in 1997. According to the Cubs’ official website, Chicago set a Cactus League record for spring training attendance in 2009.

    But Hohokam Stadium does lack one thing that many parks have: modernization. There are only a handful of luxury boxes, and many of the seats are just aluminum bleachers. Another thing that’s interesting about this stadium is that fans aren’t allowed on the berm during batting practice, so catching a home run is out of the question.

    On the plus side for Hohokam Stadium is its concession stands, which offer unique items compared to the rest of the league. For example, you can buy BBQ nachos, Chinese noodles and pork tenderloin sandwiches. The obvious choices of hot dogs and burgers are also available for those who don’t like to stray from the norm.

    The Cubs should be an interesting club this year, bringing in a couple of pitchers to help the starting rotation while keeping the majority of their offense from last season together. Chicago decided to stick with Alfonso Soriano and hope that he can produce like he did last season.

8. Bright House Field

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    Team: Philadelphia Phillies

    Opened: 2004

    Location: Clearwater, Fla.

    Capacity: 8,800

    The Philadelphia Phillies have called Bright House Field home since 2004. It’s not a huge facility, only holding 8,800 fans, but is still one of the more elegant-looking stadiums in the Grapefruit League.

    Take walking into the stadium, for instance. There’s a large water fountain greeting fans before they get settled into their seats, and once they do enter the stadium, there shouldn’t be any worries about it being too crowded. The walkways are very wide, and even space between rows is larger than one would expect.

    In terms of concessions, the only thing that matters at Phillies games is Philly cheesesteaks, and of course, Bright House Field provides hundreds of them to hungry fans each game. You don’t have to watch a game in Philly to get a good cheesesteak. This Florida park proves that.

    Philadelphia made a couple of moves this past winter, but the core of the team remains the same. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels still lead the pitching staff, and Jonathan Papelbon remains the closer. The offense still features Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. The Phillies did acquire Michael Young and Ben Revere this offseason, and they should play big roles in the upcoming season.

7. Ed Smith Stadium

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    Team: Baltimore Orioles

    Opened: 1989

    Location: Sarasota, Fla.

    Capacity: 7,500

    Personally visiting Ed Smith Stadium last season, I can tell you that this is one of the top spring training complexes you’ll find. It isn’t fancy, but it’s very original. What sets it apart is the customer service. All of the employees love baseball and love working there. It’s a place where it’s tough to not have a good time.

    On the downside, the food wasn’t very good at all. The price for a hamburger, fries and a drink was a little higher than I expected. When I pay more for food, I usually expect it to be worth it, and unfortunately, it wasn’t. Maybe concessions are an area of focus for the Orioles and Ed Smith going forward, but as of last season, I wouldn’t recommend it.

    Another thing that I didn’t care for was the lack of shade. I’m one of those people who needs a bunch of sunscreen to avoiding getting torched by the sun, but even with plenty on, the sun was unavoidable. There were barely any seats with shade, and a few times I needed to go walk around where fans were blowing just to get a break from the heat.

    The Baltimore Orioles didn’t do much maneuvering this winter, keeping the bulk of the team intact. Mark Reynolds is gone, but that will eliminate the logjam in the infield that the Orioles experienced last year. All eyes will be on Manny Machado this spring—and this year—to see how he progresses.

6. Camelback Ranch

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    Teams: Chicago White Sox/Los Angeles Dodgers          

    Opened: 2009

    Location: Phoenix, Ariz.

    Capacity: 13,000

    One of the biggest spring training stadiums in baseball, Camelback Ranch is the home of two clubs, the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. Although that may seem like a lot—and it really is a lot—the employees and staff somehow make it all work.

    What’s interesting about Camelback Ranch is that it really is like a ranch. Looking at the outside of the park, you’ll quickly notice that it’s unlike any other park you’ve ever seen. It actually looks more like a ski lodge than a baseball field, but once you enter, you clearly know the purpose of the structure.

    Even though the Dodgers and White Sox share the park, it’s a little obvious that the Dodgers are the favorites. The seats are fairly close to what you’ll find in Chavez Ravine and what you won’t see at U.S Cellular Field. The food is relatively unique, offering an array of Mexican food, but it’s a little pricey. Overall, you could end up spending close to $100 yourself to attend a game.

    The White Sox have virtually the same team as last season, but the Dodgers made more impact decisions this past winter. Los Angeles signed Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu to pitch in the starting rotation, and with Carl Crawford expected to be healthy, the Dodgers will now have one of the top lineups in the game.

    Chicago’s main focus this spring is to develop catcher Tyler Flowers so that he can be the everyday starter when the season starts. 

5. JetBlue Park at Fenway South

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    Team: Boston Red Sox

    Opened: 2012

    Location: Fort Myers, Fla.

    Capacity: 10,823

    As the newest spring training complex in the league, JetBlue Park is a must-see for spring training goers. It’s a magnificent facility that is basically a replica of Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox. JetBlue is everything you’d expect out of a new stadium and a little more.

    The Green Monster seats are one of the biggest attractions, and it’s actually a little taller in Florida than it is in Boston. One of the confusing parts of the left field wall, though, is that there are seats in the Monster, not just above it. There is a screen protecting those fans, and it is in play should a batter hit a ball in that general direction.

    The fan fare is positive, as there are many things to do at JetBlue Park before, during and after the game. The food was better than I expected, as the Red Sox provide the same food that they do at Fenway Park. The prices are about the same at each venue, which is relatively high compared to other parks, but it’s certainly worth it.

    Boston should look like a brand-new team in 2013, making a bunch of moves to revamp the clubhouse. The Red Sox signed Ryan Dempster to help out the rotation, Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino to bolster the outfield, Stephen Drew to play shortstop and other role players to help improve the on-field product.

    The team’s biggest move, however, was hiring John Farrell to be the manager. Farrell has what it takes to get Boston back to the playoffs.

4. Peoria Sports Complex

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    Teams: San Diego Padres/Seattle Mariners

    Opened: 1994

    Location: Peoria, Ariz.

    Capacity: 12,882

    Another large stadium, the Peoria Sports Complex hosts the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners during spring training, even though the weather in their respective homes probably isn’t too shabby. What’s notably cool about this facility is that it was designed as a perfect circle with a field in the middle, which you see can with an overhead view.

    Seating-wise, you don’t have many options, but be sure to not sit in the bleachers. Even if it costs significantly more, you won’t regret it. The bleachers don’t have seat backs, and for a nine-inning game, that’s a long time to not have any back support at all. Pay the extra money and sit closer to the field.

    One of the best things about spring training is the ability to get autographs during batting practice. However, fans won’t have that opportunity at the Peoria Sports Complex, as it’s rare for teams to take on-field batting practice before the game. They’re much more likely to hit on a practice field instead. I’m not saying autographs are impossible, but they certainly aren’t easy to acquire.

    The biggest move San Diego made this winter was deciding to keep Chase Headley, who many teams were interested in acquiring. The Padres should have about the same level of success they had in 2012, which wasn’t much at all.

    The Mariners, however, made a ton of moves to try to compete within the highly competitive AL West. Seattle doesn’t have the best overall squad, but it could exceed expectations in 2013.

3. Scottsdale Stadium

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    Team: San Francisco Giants

    Opened: 1992

    Location: Scottsdale, Ariz.

    Capacity: 12,000

    Scottsdale Stadium, the home of the San Francisco Giants since it opened in 1992, is a classy place to watch a spring training game. The stadium isn’t over the top, but it’s in a great area, and no seat is a bad one. It’s a fairly large spring training complex, with the ability to hold around 12,000 fans each game.

    Fans will absolutely have trouble parking near the stadium should they decide to drive. Walking may be a better option since there aren’t many spots to put your car anytime close to first pitch. There are a couple of garages within walking distance of the field, but convenience is certainly something that Scottsdale Stadium lacks.

    The food, however, is remarkable once you find a spot and get inside the stadium. There are plenty of different options that aren’t very expensive, and the quality is fantastic. While price isn’t a factor for food, it usually is for a seat. The lawns seats are more expensive than most, although your chances of catching a ball before or during the game are very high.

    The reigning champion Giants tried to keep their roster relatively intact this offseason. San Francisco has a near identical product that it’ll put on the field come Opening Day, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

    The biggest question mark for the Giants is how Tim Lincecum, who struggled last season, will pitch. If he bounces back, there’s no reason why San Francisco can’t repeat as World Series winners.

2. Tempe Diablo Stadium

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    Team: Los Angeles Angels

    Opened: 1968

    Location: Tempe, Ariz.

    Capacity: 9,785

    Tempe Diablo Stadium may be old, opening more than 40 years ago, but it will probably never lose its great atmosphere. As you can see in the picture, the stadium has a huge mountain just off the foul line in left field. Not a bad target, although hitting the mountain would be a foul ball.

    Many of the seats inside Tempe Diablo Stadium are bleachers, but they do have backs so you aren’t in agony the entire game. Before the game, getting an autograph is a near certainty, as batting practice is usually taken on the field prior to first pitch and players are more than willing to talk to fans and sign some baseballs.

    One of the best things about going to games at Tempe Diablo Stadium is the leniency of the staff. Although it’s somewhat unethical, who hasn’t tried to move up a row or two late in the game? The ushers usually won’t deter you from doing so if there is an empty seat closer to the field. What’s better than that? Prices for seats aren’t too high, but if you can move up without paying more, why not?

    The Angels landed the top free agent this past offseason, signing Josh Hamilton to a monster contract that will place him in an already dangerous lineup that includes Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Los Angeles also made a couple moves to improve its pitching staff, so the rotation will look a little different after Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson take the mound.

1. George M. Steinbrenner Field

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    Team: New York Yankees

    Opened: 1996

    Location: Tampa, Fla.

    Capacity: 11,000

    I’ve only ever been to three spring training stadiums, but after visiting George M. Steinbrenner Field last spring, I know it’s the best in the game. It’s exactly what you’d imagine from the New York Yankees: top-of-the-line everything. From the seats to the concessions to the field, everything is ridiculously amazing, and every baseball fans needs to check it out.

    Going in, you know that the prices are going to be high for nearly everything—it is the New York Yankees. Seats are expensive due to demand, but there isn’t a bad seat in the house. And right outside, you can watch batting practice and stand right behind the cage. Food is expensive as well, but the quality is pretty good. Paying more than $5 for a hot dog, though, seems like a crime.

    The field resembles Yankee Stadium quite a bit in terms of structure and atmosphere. The fans are a little calmer in Florida than in New York, coming from a Red Sox fan at least. The seats are very comfortable, and the ushers make sure that your seat is always clean before sitting down in it. There are plenty of staff members walking around willing to tend to your every need. 

    The Yankees had their issues this offseason, allowing many players to walk in free agency while the team rehabbed several key players, including Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. With both expected to be healthy by Opening Day, New York shouldn’t have too much to worry about. Kevin Youkilis will take the spot of the injured Alex Rodriguez, and Chris Stewart is likely to replace Russell Martin behind the plate.

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