NORTH PORT — Along a largely undeveloped stretch of the Tamiami Trail in southern Sarasota County, the Atlanta Braves found their new spring training home on a former cattle ranch.
Amidst an open area of bulldozers, traffic cones, construction cranes and an occasional sandhill crane, the Braves will open CoolToday Park Sunday by hosting their Grapefruit League finale against the Rays. The 6,200-seat stadium is the centerpiece of the team’s new 90-acre spring training facility that will connect camps from the bay area to those in southwest Florida.
It will be a welcome arrival for the Rays. A new spring training neighbor 15 miles from their camp in Port Charlotte will break up the Rays’ monotony of playing the same teams, including all four of their division finals, on Florida’s gulf coast.
“There’s certainly an advantage to out-of-division or American League teams for us," said Mike Dunn, the Braves vice president of Florida Operations. "And on the flip slide, it’s an advantage to those guys because it gives them another opponent that they’re not going to see in the regular season. It’s a win-win for all the teams. It creates another dynamic to the scheduling.”
Said Rays manager Kevin Cash: “We’re going to really enjoy having the Braves over there, and having a National League club will be nice and not having to constantly face the Red Sox and the Yankees and the Orioles.”
The Braves found themselves isolated at Disney World after the Astros left for West Palm Beach last year. Other than a 35-minute trip to Lakeland to play the Tigers, they didn’t have a bus ride of less than an hour. In North Port they have five teams within an hour drive.
CoolToday Park, the new spring training home of the Atlanta Braves, will host its first spring training game on Sunday against the Rays. The Braves' move from Disney World to southern Sarasota County will give the Rays a nearby Grapefruit League opponent. [EDUARDO A. ENCINA | Times]
The Braves’ $140 million project was funded by private and public sources. Private developer Mattany Homes donated the land and $4.7 million. The city of North Port contributed $4.7 million and the West Villages, the planned community within North Port that houses the facility, ran the construction and development.
Sarasota County contributed $21.2 million through hotel bed tax dollars. The state of Florida put in $20 million after showing the Braves arrival would add $1.7 billion economic impact on the area over the team’s 30-year lease. The Braves footed the rest.
CoolToday Park, the new spring training home of the Atlanta Braves, has 6,200 seats, but the capacity can grow to 8,000 with space for 1,800 additional fans in the left-field berm. [EDUARDO A. ENCINA | Times]
"It's not just a county investment, the Atlanta Braves have invested millions, the state of Florida invested," said Sarasota County commissioner chair Charles D. Hines. "We're looking around at (this ballpark) and how many jobs did it create when this was being built? And it will continue to create jobs."
The ballpark itself will incorporate several familiar facets from other Grapefruit League facilities. The clubhouse behind the right field fence is reminiscent of Charlotte Sports Park. An outfield grandstand is similar to Bradenton’s LECOM Park. The berm in left field is common to many spring training facilities. The ballpark has a left-field tiki bar, as does the Phillies’ stadium in Clearwater.
“You learn from all the ballparks you’re at and visit," Dunn said.
The major league clubhouse inside CoolToday Park, the new spring training home of the Atlanta Braves, can hold 60 to 80 lockers and is 40,680 square feet. [EDUARDO A. ENCINA | Times]
One thing it won’t take is the reputation of its old stadium at Disney of having one of most sweltering facilities in the Grapefruit League. The stadium faces northeast. Planners say 60 to 70 percent of the seats will be shaded for the start of a 1 p.m. game.
The dimensions of CoolToday Park are identical to SunTrust Park in Atlanta so players can adjust themselves to the nuances of the major league ballpark.
The logo on the back of every seat at CoolToday Park, the new spring training home of the Atlanta Braves. [EDUARDO A. ENCINA | Times]
It will also have an eye to the future. Cameras were installed throughout the ballpark, from down the lines over the batter’s eye to inside the dugout with the purpose of collecting video for data purposes. Batting cages and practice fields will also be equipped with cameras. Classroom terminals inside the clubhouse will allow players to quickly pull up video of just-completed at bats.
And while the ballpark is complete, work will continue on the facility, including a 120-room dormitory for minor leagues that will include a 250-seat theater, a cafeteria that will serve four meals a day, classrooms, game rooms, isolation rooms and even a barber shop.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at [email protected] Follow @EddieintheYard