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Ballpark Of The Palm Beaches: New Spring Facility For Astros, Nats
- Updated: February 14, 2017
For 31 years, the Houston Astros gathered every spring at their Osceola County Stadium complex in Kissimmee, FL, in the shadow of the Disney World welcome sign.
This past week, the Astros (and Washington Nationals) brought their Spring Training workouts and games to The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches, 144 miles southeast of Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
In fact, the Astros’ 30-foot logo will welcome you to their new facility, which is located a scant 10 miles from President Trump’s beachfront Mar-a-Lago Club, following a brief jaunt down I-95. Whether one will ever visit the other this spring remains to be seen.
The new 6,400 blue-seated main stadium is located at 5444 Haverhill Road in W. Palm Beach, with the entire complex occupying 160 acres. 1,000 fans can also be seated on the outfield berm. Ground was broken on the $150 million project in November, 2015.
The last time spring ball was played in Palm Beach was in 1997, when the Braves and the Expos shared old Municipal Stadium. The Expos morphed into the Nationals in 2005, and now, the “NatStros” will be conveniently located in the same facility, and near enough to other camps to alleviate excruciatingly long bus trips.
There is only one other two-team facility in the Grapefruit League: Roger Dean Stadium in nearby Jupiter, spring home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins, just 15 miles away.
A Brief Tour
Foot traffic can enjoy easy access via convenient pedestrian bridges on either side of the ballpark. Fans will notice the Astros’ bullpen just past the left-field fence, while the Nats’ relievers will use the right-field ‘pen.
The Astros’ fields occupy the north side of the complex, while Washington’s fields can be found to the south. Posh spectator suites are in short supply, generally, but are divvied up equally, with three each for the Nats ‘n’ ‘Stros.
Fun Fact: Three of the 12 practice fields were built with outfield dimensions matching Minute Maid Park in Houston, and Nationals Park in Washington to help Astros and Nationals players get re-acquainted with their regular-season ballparks.
The Astros’ practice field (for intra-squad games, located on the far north end of the complex) will have no Tal’s Hill approximation; Astros fans will recall the former center field aberration was dismantled shortly after the end of the 2016 season.
According to a July 19, 2015, PalmBeachPost.com article, “the dimensions at the main stadium will not replicate either team’s regular-season ballpark. The three practice fields — one with the Minute Maid Park dimensions and two with the Nationals Park dimensions — will not host Grapefruit League games, but they will be used for spring drills.”
Explaining the rationale for the homey dimensions of the practice field, Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe said, “It’s really for the outfielders. We’ve got to get these guys to adjust and get accustomed to taking balls and caroms off the walls.”
The main stadium, however, will have the following distances from home plate: 335 feet to left field, 370 to 385 feet along left-center, 408 feet to the deepest part of center field, and 396 to 335 feet in right field.
BallparkDigest.com offers this fan-friendly info: “The Astros occupy all space past the left-field concourse in a more traditional spring-training design, with common areas in the middle” (shown above in the left third of the depiction).
“One thing this design maintains from the previous Osceola County Stadium design: The Astros are keeping the player parade to and from the clubhouse. Astros players tend to be very accessible to fans during spring training, and one reason (was) the pathway between the left-field clubhouse and the Osceola County Stadium playing field.”
Thinking outside the box score is this built-in feature of The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches (from Ballpark Digest): “The baseball facilities are designed to be used year-round for player development (extended spring training, Gulf Coast League rookie ball) and rehabs, but the complex as a whole is designed to host events other than baseball, such as concerts, soccer matches, marathons or festivals. Cloverleaf practice fields can be used for tournaments.”
Mike Lupica penned a deeper look into The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on February 8, in his SportsOnEarth.com article: New Ballpark: Beauty and the Beach: “There is already a natural lake between Haverhill and the Nationals’ side of the ballpark, and a man-made lake on the Astros’ side, and eventually there will be a walking trail that will go around the whole place, around all the games that will begin on Feb. 28, with the two home teams playing each other and then continue all the way to Opening Day.”
A Tale of Two Philosophies
According to Joe Mock of BaseballParks.com, and the February 15-21, 2017 print edition of USA Today Sports Weekly, “the two teams differ in the way they allow younger players to have access to the more seasoned pros.
“While the Nationals’ minor leaguers will work in different areas than the veterans, the Astros seek to ‘create the concept of organizational unity,'” says Reid Ryan, Astros president for business operations.
Further, Ryan explained the perfectly sensible notion of the Astros’ philosophy: “We want our younger players seeing what it takes to be a big-leaguer. We want there to be interaction. We think there’s positive influence there.”
Why wouldn’t the Nationals want that?
The Mayor and the Alien
The Astros’ PR machine has been busily providing W. Palm Beach citizens with an introduction to their new baseball-playing neighbors.
Mascot Orbit dropped by Palm Beach Children’s Hospital on February 8, planting smiles and uplifting spirits. The next day, he visited nearby Egret Lake Elementary School to deliver an anti-bullying message. Later, the fuzzy, green alien delivered good will and an Astros jersey to West Palm Beach Mayor, Jeri Muoio (below):
If you have plans to visit full-squad workouts (Astros begin 2/18; Nats 2/19), this Official Ballpark of The Palm Beaches list of things to know should be helpful (all times ET):
As Houston manager A.J. Hinch tweeted recently: “Looking forward to the grind. Here’s to a successful 2017. Time to get to work.”
Video: Watch the new 2017 Astros “Earn It” kickoff promo:
Brad was born and raised in the shadow of what eventually became Colt Stadium, and then, in '65, the Astrodome.
Brad's a semi-retired entertainer, having been lead singer (and flautist) of high school rock cover band Brimstone (Houston, early '70s).
He currently sings karaoke nightly, and also performs at nursing homes and private parties.
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