Spring 2017 was a time of big change in the Grapefruit League and, to a lesser extent, in the Cactus League. In the Grapefruit League, we saw welcome renovations to George M. Steinbrenner Field and Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, as well as the opening of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. In the Cactus League, we saw the end of a multiyear renovation at Peoria Stadium.
This year won’t see that level of activity. But here are a few things worth noting.
First: you’ll see extended netting throughout most, if not all spring-training facilities. There have been plenty of announcements of the extended netting being installed in ballparks like LECOM Park, and we expect to hear of more installations between now and the beginning of games on February 23. In most cases, netting will be extended to the far end of the dugouts, while in the past netting ended at the near end of the dugouts. There have been grumbles from fans who see some access to players cut off with the extended netting. The tradeoff, of course, is a much safer spring-training experience. One other complaint is that the netting will obscure the view of the action. We’ve seen the new generation of netting in action, and we think most fans will be pleasantly surprised as to how unobtrusive it is. New netting sports a finer mesh and smaller knots, and it’s green (as opposed to black), which blends in better with the turf.
For example, the Tampa Bay Rays announced yesterday that extended netting will be installed both at Tropicana Field and Charlotte Sports Park. The extensions at Charlotte Sports Park will run to the end of the dugouts, and the same height — 30 feet high — as the current backstop netting.
Second: The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is totally completed for 2018. As you’ll recall, 2017 saw the ballpark open despite some fan amenities not open. This year will see the spring home of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals open fully completed. And you’ll also see some changes, as adjustments were made after 2017. You’ll see an overhauled bar behind third base, set up to better serve patrons. We’d recommend checking out the Shock Top Picnic Patio, located down the left-field line. It features an all-you-can-eat menu, as well as open seating on the berm or the picnic tables. You can wash down the ballpark food with a brew from the nearby Craft Beer corner bar.
Third: we have some more changes at Roger Dean Stadium for 2018. We’ve seen annual changes at the spring home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins—new canopies and more shade—and this year sees more. First, you won’t need to pay ATM fees to buy some favorites at concession stands: every point of sale will be equipped with credit-card readers. Second, the suites are being redone in an upscale fashion. Third: more shade! Finally, the playing field will sport new turf, with the first replacement in nine years. That’s actually pretty amazing, considering how often the ballpark is in use, between two MLB teams and two Florida State League teams.
Fourth: this will be your last chances to see three classic, somewhat dated facilities before extensive renovations take place. Maryvale Baseball Park, spring home of the Milwaukee Brewers, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, spring home of the Toronto Blue Jays, and First Data Field, spring home of the New York Mets, are in line for extreme makeovers after spring training ends this year. At Maryvale Baseball Park, most of the upgrades will be focused on the third-base side of the facility, with upgraded concessions and restrooms. At Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, fans will see a new 360-degree concourse, upgraded seating and more shade. And at First Data Field, fans will enjoy a new 360-degree concourse, improved concessions, renovated clubhouses, a new player dorm, and more in 2019 and 2020. There is talk of other ballpark renovations in coming years, but so far no firm plans are in the works.
Fifth: fans will see some small changes at Ed Smith Stadium, spring home of the Baltimore Orioles. You can read more here.
Sixth: We’ll see more shade and a new scoreboard at Camelback Ranch-Glendale, spring home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. You can read more here.
Finally, we have no new spring-training ballparks on tap in 2018 or 2019. In case you missed the news, the new spring home of the Atlanta Braves will not fully open until 2020, giving fans two more springs to see the team in action at Champion Stadium and ESPN Wide World of Sports. Probably a wise move: though the Braves are set to play one game at the new North Port (Sarasota County) ballpark at the end of spring training in 2019, that could change if there are any construction delays (which isn’t out of the realm of possibility, given the unpredictability of hurricane season in past years).
As we get closer to the launch of spring-training games, we’ll see more announcements about new concessions and other minor upgrades throughout both the Grapefruit League and the Cactus League. For now, these are the major changes you can track as you make your spring-training plans.