After the Hall of Famers have been cheered, hats have been tipped to local dignitaries, the national anthem has played and the ceremonial first pitch has landed squarely in the catcher’s glove, the Atlanta Braves will take the field of their brand-new spring training home on Sunday afternoon, March 24.
Baseball fans have been eagerly awaiting the opening of the new Florida home of the Braves in North Port. The Braves, who have relocated from their 20-year home at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, will play their final spring training game of 2019 at Cool Today Park against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The ballpark was announced to much fanfare in 2017. It has 6,200 fixed seats and1,000 berm seats, six full fields and two half-practice fields, and a 360-degree concourse that allows for optimal viewing. “You can literally watch the game from multiple vantage points,” says Mike Dunn, director of Florida operations for the Braves. Drink rails are scattered throughout the stadium to encourage fans to move around. “As you walk you’re encouraged to stop and look [as you] set your drink down along the rail,”
The Braves are putting down year-round roots in North Port, says Dunn. Sixteen full-time people have already relocated to the area, and an additional 40 full-timers will be hired. The Gulf Coast League Braves will play there over the summer, with more than 100 players (mostly rookies) onsite. And the complex will serve as the team’s central medical hub; “any player who gets hurt in the Braves system will be sent here to rehabilitate,” says Dunn.
The Braves aren’t thinking about shoulder or elbow injuries right now, though. They’re looking ahead to repeating the success of last season, when they won the 2018 National League East division championship with the help of sizzling hot players like Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies.
The March 24 game is sold out. But the public is invited to the ballpark on Saturday, March 23, for a kickoff party. The Budweiser Clydesdales will be there along with DJs and some special surprises. It will be an excellent chance to choose seats for spring training 2020.
“We’re fortunate to be embraced by the Suncoast,” says Dunn. “It’s a great opportunity to get closer to our competition and to get closer to a beautiful part of the world. And we’re hoping to make a lot of new Braves fans."