For true baseball fans, there is a magical time before reality intrudes and all things — including a division or even league championship — are possible.
Tap into some of that optimism on a trip to see the Mets in Port St. Lucie or the Yankees in Tampa during spring training. An up-close and personal game-day experience is a near perfect day in the Florida sun, and even if your team doesn’t win, it doesn’t really count. With beaches galore and plenty to see and do in the surrounding area (Orlando is only two hours from both locations), you have the all the makings of a surefire family excursion.
Located behind a sprawling commercial park right off Interstate 95 in westernmost (inland) Port St. Lucie, the low-slung and largely open-air stadium now known as First Data Field has been the spring home of the Amazins’ since 1988. Renovated in 2004, First Data now features a party deck overlooking right field and a separate entry, general admission “Berm” (suitable for picnics) behind the right field fence. (Unfortunately for autograph seekers, extended protective netting now makes it practically impossible to interact with players from behind the Mets dugout.) There are 17 home games between Feb. 23 and March 25, all but two of which begin at 1:10 p.m. Gates open two hours before game time, and fans are advised to allow plenty of travel time as access to First Data Field is via Port St. Lucie West Boulevard, a busy, commercial thoroughfare that connects with I-95.
AFTER SPRING TRAINING The Port St. Lucie Mets, the Mets’ Class A-Advanced farm team begins its 2018 season at First Data Field on April 5.
WHAT ELSE TO SEE AND DO For many Mets fans, Port St. Lucie is a full day trip from the popular Atlantic Ocean resorts of South Florida or Disney World in Orlando. Those who choose to stay on Florida’s Treasure Coast, however, are rewarded with a significantly less frenetic and more natural setting. Only five minutes west of First Data Field is PGA Village, an upscale golf resort with several lodging options and three designer courses, all open to the public (greens fees: $93 to $153). Fishing enthusiasts have a choice of some 20 charter operators, both deep-sea and in the Indian River Lagoon, while nature enthusiasts can go on a pontoon boat tour, kayaking, dolphin and manatee watching, or explore on their own the 6,000-acre Savannas Preserve State Park (floridastateparks.org/park/Savannas, $3 per vehicle).
HITTING THE BEACH Stretching offshore for 23 miles between Fort Pierce and Stuart, Hutchinson Island are more than two dozen generally small, undeveloped beaches, including one, Frederick Douglass, where you can even ride horses. Free public access (including parking) is available from State Route A1A, which itself can be accessed from Ft. Pierce, Jensen Beach and Stuart, all surprisingly charming Old Florida towns. There are also numerous resorts and motels on the island, especially at the northern and southern ends.
FIRST DATA FIELD 525 NW Peacock Blvd., Port St. Lucie; 772-871-2115
TICKETS $15 to $40 at the stadium box office ($2 surcharge for game day purchases); online at mlb.com/mets
PARKING $10 (grass lot in front of the stadium)
AREA INFO visitstluciefla.com
Yankee fans have better reason than most to be excited about the 2018 season. Last year their team came within one game of the World Series, and in the offseason, it acquired slugger Giancarlo Stanton. That should make for near capacity crowds this spring at George M. Steinbrenner Stadium, the Yankees’ spring training facility since 1996, which had major renovations last year. Located directly across from Raymond James Stadium (home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), The George as it’s frequently called, was designed to be reminiscent of Yankee Stadium, and, in fact, has identical field dimensions. It also has the largest capacity (11,026) of any stadium in Florida’s Grapefruit League and the highest ticket prices. Those attending any of the 16 games between Feb. 23 and March 24 (11 at 1:05 p.m., 5 at 6:35 p.m., with gates opening three hours beforehand) have a choice of traditional stadium seats plus two clubhouses, rightfield cabanas, and an outfield bar. On March 10, 16, and 23, true fanatics can partake of Inside Experience, an eight-hour premium program featuring facility tours, player meet and greets, photo ops, and meals at $425 per person.
AFTER SPRING TRAINING The Tampa Tarpons, the Yankees’ Class A-Advanced farm team begins its 2018 season at Steinbrenner Field on April 7.
WHAT ELSE TO SEE AND DO Florida’s third largest city is literally loaded with popular activities. Downtown, for example, are the Florida Aquarium (complete with dolphin cruises) and the Henry B. Plant Museum, while farther from the city center are historic Cuban neighborhood of Ybor City, Busch Gardens Theme Park, the Lowry Park Zoo, and the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary.
HITTING THE BEACH Twenty-five miles west of The George is the mega resort of Clearwater Beach. For those seeking greater solitude, there’s Caladesi Island State Park Beach in Dunedin, ranked No. 1 in the country by Dr. Beach in 2008, and accessible by ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park ($14 round trip).
GEORGE M. STEINBRENNER FIELD 1 Steinbrenner Drive (intersection of Dale Mabry Highway and Dr. MLK Jr. Boulevard), Tampa; 813-879-2244; steinbrennerfield.com
TICKETS $20-$90 at the stadium box office; online at mlb.com/yankees
PARKING $10 (across Dale Mabry Highway; access to the stadium via elevated walkway)
AREA INFO visittampabay.com