The article below was originally written in 2013 when it looked like the Nats were moving their spring operation to Kissimmee, with the new ballpark opening in Palm Beach as early as next spring I’ve tweaked some of the text but most of the ideas are still relevant. Original Article on WNFF
The PB69 family travels down to Florida for spring break as often as we can, splitting time between Disney, the beach, and the Nats. Below is what I would suggest to build the new ballpark area to tip the scales towards baseball.
1) Ballpark and Practice Fields
- First of all, it needs to be a small park, ~7,000 seats capacity, maybe a bit more with lots of lawn seating (early designs have it at 8,500). This matches up with the Astros, Cards/Marlins, and Tigers parks; in contrast to the the Nats and Braves parks. (Although Joker Marchant is bigger than Space Coast, it pulls off the small park feel.) It should have minimal foul territory so that you are right up close to the action. Definitely no upper deck.
- There needs to be a retractable roof. Not really, but a sun screen is must have. Sometimes the temps max out at 70 degrees during the day and you want to sit in the sun. But many times I’ve been down there and the temps are in the 90s and with no shade you are sitting in the sun for four hours straight. This is fine for Florida residents who are used to it but I’m flying in from DC so my pasty white skin hasn’t seen the sun in six months and I need some relief. I know that a lot of people prefer to sit in the sun, but most of the parks have nearly no shade available. I’d like to see at least a quarter of the park covered on hot days. (This appears to be the case in the early renderings.)
- A big screen for replays sure would be nice. Not Nats Park big, but about the size of the ones they have at Verizon Center. Space Coast does not have much in the way of high tech, Disney does but it is far away from the stands for the size. Maybe make the field slightly lopsided so that the scoreboard can be closer to the fans.
- Bullpens up the baselines like at Wrigley. Houston has this now, and it’s cool to be able to sit down directly behind where the relievers are sitting. One of my favorite spring moments was listening to Storen complain about Henry Rodriguez.
- Practice fields immediately next to the ballpark (which based on the mock ups they are going beyond what I imagined). I’m not an autograph guy but I know that the close proximity of the practice fields to the ballpark is one of the most appreciated aspects of Space Coast stadium and it would be nice to have this continue at the new facility.
- I’d put a giant resort hotel directly between the practice fields (probably not going to happen based on the current plans, but there is still room across the street). One side of the hotel for each team so that fans can watch their team practice while sitting on their balcony. (Needs to be suites with a fridge and a microwave.)
- Make the main hotel baseball themed, baseball pictures and motifs everywhere, memorabilia in the lobby. And a sports bar with a ton of TVs since the NCAA tournament will be going on at the same time as spring training.
- Have meet and greets for breakfast, bring in old players, media guys, maybe the GM once or twice. People will pay a ton to eat cheap food with 150 other people if Nick Johnson and Brian Schneider stop by to shake hands and take a picture.
- Waterslides, lots of waterslides, maybe even a lazy river. Got to keep the whole family happy while Dad watches the ballgames. This is the difference between a two night stay and a week for my family.
- Bus trips to away games. One of the biggest issues of spring training is that they play at home and away just about every other day, so there is a lot of driving. I’d be happy to pay a few bucks to ride up to Port St. Lucie with a bunch of other Nats fans rather than driving myself. (This is much less an issue with the Palm Beach site where half of the away games are right in town.)
- Cheap hotels, there needs to be some close by no frills options around for the guys who fly down for the weekend and don’t need or want all the resort extras. This is also must have for the minor league guys who have a minimal budget.
3) Surrounding Area
- The whole ballpark and hotel area needs to be walkable. I want to be able to watch practice, catch a game, pick up the family at the pool, and head to dinner without having to get in a car. (Mark Lerner was asked about the ballpark area and he responded that he expects it to be revived just like the Nats Park neighborhood, so we’re looking at this being more in the long term future.)
- It would be real nice to have some typical beach area staples like mini-golf, go-karts, and shopping nearby. Currently the options appear to be to stay at the beach and take a short drive to the ballpark or vice versa.
- Restaurants of course, got to have plenty of options. A steakhouse, seafood, pizza, Hooters…
- A Walmart, Publix, or at least a drug store within a mile. We always need to pick up some of the basic stuff like suntan lotion, bottled water, snacks, and beer, and the hotel store mark-ups will kill you.
- Highway access – I don’t want to have to spend my whole trip navigating through the back roads. The new site right off of 95 that is fifteen minutes from Roger Dean Stadium and even less to the airport certainly has easy access covered.