|CHARLOTTE SPORTS PARK|
|Year Opened||1986; renovated 2009|
|Dimensions||343L, 384LC, 413C, 384RC, 3434R|
|Local Airport||Fort Myers|
|Ticket Prices||To be announced|
|Tickets on Sale||Friday, January 13 at 10 a.m., online only; at the Charlotte Sports Park box office on Saturday, January 14 at 10 a.m.|
|Ticket Web Site||raysbaseball.com|
|Address||2300 El Jobean Road, Port Charlotte, FL 33948|
|Directions||From I-75, take Exit 170 for Highway 769/Kings Highway toward Port Charlotte. Turn left onto Highway 769/Kings Highway, and then things get a little complicated: you’ll want to turn left at Peachland Boulevard, right at Birchcrest Boulevard, right at Bachmann Boulevard, and then a left on Veterans Boulevard, which will turn into El Jobean Road. You’ll go on El Jobean for almost seven miles. The complex will be on your left.|
Tampa Bay Rays Spring Training: Southern Exposure
At first, it seems like an odd move for the Tampa Bay Rays to abandon one of the cushiest spring-training setups in baseball and leave scenic Al Lang Field in downtown St. Petersburg for a spring-training site once abandoned by the Texas Rangers.
But appearances can be deceiving, and there’s a reason why teams like to get away from home for spring training: it’s hard for a team to bond when everyone is heading for home after each practice and game. Plus, major-league teams want to locate everything – practice fields, spring ballpark, multiple clubhouses, year-round minor-league operations – in the same facility, and the split nature of Rays spring training at Al Lang Field and the Naimoli Complex put operations under several roofs.
And then there’s the issue of the Rays being taken for granted because spring training wasn’t considered by locals to be too special: why make a point of heading for an afternoon game in March when the team would be safely ensconced at Tropicana Field for the season? It was at the point where the Rays weren’t even the biggest draw in their own town, as both the Yankees and Phillies outdrew the Rays in spring training. So the decision was made to relocate operations where a more receptive audience would turn out in droves for spring baseball.
The move worked. The Rays went from being a nothing draw in St. Petersburg to being one of the hottest draws in spring training, selling out every seat in Charlotte Sports Park and being back some solid enthusiasm to the franchise. The fanbase in Port Charlotte is largely made up of locals, but there are enough folks driving down from the greater Tampa Bay area to keep things interesting. True, Charlotte Sports Park really isn’t close to much of anything, but a game there has turned into one of the better spring events in Florida.
Over $27 million was spent on a complete makeover of the ballpark and the rest of the complex, which also hosts a Class A Florida State League team, the Charlotte Stone Crabs, during the regular season. The ballpark was stripped down to its concrete base and was remade with new seating, a center-field Tiki bar, outfield berms, a restaurant, new suites, 360-degree concourse, new entrance, and family picnic areas down each line.
Spring Training History
The Tampa Bay Rays trained in St. Petersburg’s Al Lang Field since the team’s inception in 1998 through 2008.
Charlotte Sports Park was formerly the spring home of the Texas Rangers from 1986 through 2002, when the team shifted operations to Surprise, Arizona. In 2007 it served as the home of the best-drawing team in the independent South Coast League, the Charlotte County Redfish. For the Rays, the ballpark was stripped down to its concrete base and rebuilt. If you visited during the Rangers era, you won’t recognize it.
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