PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays unveiled their newly renovated spring training facility Thursday complete with fan-friendly touches and player-comforting amenities.
The tricky part may be getting to see it.
The more than 5,000 reserved seats are already sold out for all 16 exhibitions, leaving only $9 berm area and day-of-game standing room tickets available (plus a limited number of season-ticket packages).
"The response," senior vice president Michael Kalt said, "has been tremendous."
Work on the $27 million renovation of the former Texas Rangers facility is impressive, highlighted by a boardwalk that spans the outfield, providing unique views and 360-degree circulation, and featuring a barbecue area and sure-to-be-popular tiki bar, with the bar top lined with old baseball cards.
Other fan features include a wraparound berm in the leftfield corner, open-air concourses, a children's play area team officials hope will become "autograph alley" and more than 1,500 on-site parking spots. With suites and group party areas, the overall capacity is about 6,800.
"The main thing we tried to do is create a great experience for the fans," Kalt said. "We wanted to keep the atmosphere light and casual, not overly corporate."
The players may not be thrilled about the move but should like the facility. There are 5½ fields in addition to the stadium on the 82-acre site, covered batting cages, a 4,000-square-foot weight room and state of the art hydrotherapy stations.
The shift 75 miles south allows the Rays to have their minor- and major-league players train at the same site for the first time in their 12 years, as well as team offices on the second floor of the new 43,000-square-foot building beyond rightfield. There are separate locker rooms, and the concerted effort to make the major-league clubhouse more plush was evident, including custom-designed wood lockers and a spacious players lounge.
"We wanted it to be visually different and physically different," vice president Melanie Lenz said.
The Rays will move into the facility in early February, with the first workout Feb. 15 and the first game Feb. 25. The Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs will play there during the summer.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.