Pro baseball isn’t the only game in town during spring training. Many of us use spring training as a platform for a larger trip, and many of us enjoy taking in a college baseball game during spring training. There are plenty of ways to take in a college game both in Arizona and Florida.
One big change in Florida: City of Palms Park, former spring home of the Boston Red Sox, won’t be used as a college venue any longer. In recent years City of Palms Park served as home to the Florida SouthWestern State College Buccaneers, the former Edison Community College. The future of City of Palms Park has been up in the air, as Fort Myers and Lee County have gone back and forth debating whether to keep baseball at the site or tear down the ballpark. FSW athletic officials decided they couldn’t wait for a decision and instead moved forward with a small on-campus ballpark, which will be partially ready in 2023 and totally finished in 2024. You can view the FSW Bucs schedule here.
A smaller venue that will be unfamiliar to Red Sox and Minnesota Twins fans, but worth seeking out: Swanson Stadium, home of the Division I Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles of the Atlantic Sun Conference. The ballpark features a traditional shaded grandstand, and some good players have taken the field for the Eagles, including Boston Red Sox star Chris Sale. The likes of Ohio State, USF and the University of Miami have appeared at Swanson Stadium in recent years. You can view the FGCU schedule here.
Baseball is a major sport in Florida, and that includes colleges as well. In Tampa, the University of South Florida Bulls play out of USF Baseball Stadium, located northwest of downtown Tampa on the college campus. (Basically, it’s a short drive from Steinbrenner Field. You can see it in the top photo.) USF Baseball Stadium opened in 2011 and replaced Red McEwen Field, a small ballpark housing the Tampa Yankees for the first two years of that team’s existence. It’s not a program with a ton of tradition, but the American Athletic Conference features some good programs, and the Bulls schedule some tough nonconference games. You can view the Bulls schedule here. One unique feature: the facility features men’s baseball and women’s softball diamonds, separated by a shared concourse. Try to schedule a trip when both teams are home–college softball is a rocking experience. Heck, head there for softball even if the men are out of town.
Located right off downtown Tampa in a historic locale, University of Tampa Baseball Field is a small ballpark, but the Spartans program is solid, with plenty of NCAA tourney appearances in recent years, including championships in 2013 and 2015. Both Lou Piniella and Tino Martinez played here, and the D-II Sunshine State Conference features plenty of top talent. The ballpark is in a scenic locale, with the downtown Tampa skyline past the outfield, and it’s located near the former Tampa Bay Hotel, now Plant Hall on the University of Tampa campus and itself worth a visit. The Tampa Bay Hotel was home to Yankees spring training during part of the Babe Ruth era. Head to Plant Hall and check out the plaque commemorating where Babe Ruth allegedly hit his longest home run; it’s located by the business school. You can view the Spartans schedule here.
In Lakeland, the Florida Southern Mocs play out of Henley Field, built to serve the spring-training needs of the Cleveland Indians in 1925 and later the Detroit Tigers. It’s still a charming place to take in a college-baseball game, with the original grandstand exterior in place and rebuilt seating in the bowl. The ballpark is several miles away from the scenic FSC campus mostly designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (itself worth a visit); the team plays in the competitive Sunshine State Conference and the program can boast of alumni like Matt Joyce, Lance Niekro and Brett Tomko. Check out the Florida Southern Mocs schedule here.
There are plenty of other noteworthy college-baseball ballparks in Florida, but they’re not located in areas close to spring-training venues. Still, if you’re seeking a day trip in search of college baseball, check out University of Central Florida, Florida State University, University of Miami, Bethune-Cookman (playing out of historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona) or Rollins College games.
Major College Baseball in Arizona
In Phoenix, venerable Phoenix Municipal Stadium is home to the Arizona State University Sun Devils baseball program. Most recently the spring home of the Oakland A’s, Phoenix Muni became the full-time home of the Sun Devils in 2015 and was decked out with Sun Devils colors and branding. It’s one of our favorite spring venues, especially at night, when nearby Papago Park makes for a spectacular backdrop past left field. Bonus: Beer. Phoenix Municipal Stadium is on the east side of the Valley, right on the border of Tempe and within an easy drive for Giants, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Cubs and A’s spring-training fans. Check out the ASU schedule here.
Grand Canyon University, located in Phoenix near American Family Fields of Phoenix, is a delightful venue and definitely worth a visit. It’s a lovely spot to take in a game, and the Antelopes schedule always features plenty of top-40 opponents visiting the ballpark as well. It is a ballpark that compares favorably to other ballparks in the spring-training-heavy Phoenix area, as well as other upper-level NCAA ballparks. GCU Ballpark features chairback seating, a larger press box, an impressive concession stand with unique offerings, an entertainment deck that can be adapted for multiple kinds of events, a pro-level sound system, new batting cages, and an upper-level concourse featuring great views of the mountain landscape. It’s basically right down the road from American Family Fields of Phoenix. Be sure to hit a night game: sunsets viewed from GCU Ballpark can be spectacular. Check out the GCU schedule here.
There are two college baseball tournaments of note in the greater Phoenix area. The former MLB4 college tourney held at the launch of spring training, with the MLB Desert Invitational tournament set for three pro and college venues across the Phoenix area. The MLB Desert Invitational tournament will now include six teams from around the country, including three nationally ranked teams, and hosted in three locations throughout the Greater Phoenix area: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (Diamondbacks/Rockies spring home), Sloan Park (Cubs spring home) and Grand Canyon University. The MLB-hosted event is scheduled for the weekend of February 17-19, including three exclusive telecasts LIVE on MLB Network and streamed on MLB.com. You can find more information about the tourney here.
In Surprise, the Sanderson Ford College Baseball Classic will take place February 17-20 at Surprise Stadium, featuring the Oregon State Beavers, New Mexico Lobos, UC Santa Barbara Gauchos and Minnesota Golden Gophers. You can find more information about the tourney here.