Braves move south:
Braves ready to move south
CoolToday Park gives the team a chance to be closer to more opponents but also put its ‘Braves Way’ on display in Florida.
NORTH PORT, Fla. – The Atlanta Braves like to describe their classy approach to baseball and business as being “The Braves Way.” If fans want to see this concept on display at the team’s new $125 million spring training complex this March, they’ll only have one chance to do it.
That’s because the Braves will be working out and playing exhibition games at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, just as they have done for the past 21 springs.
That all changes for their final exhibition game in Florida on March 24, when the action moves 138 miles south to North Port in southern Sarasota County. That day, they will play the Tampa Bay Rays in a 4:05 p.m. ET exhibition at CoolToday Park, part of the team’s new spring training complex.
Access to more teams
Walt Disney World’s advertising slogan is “Where dreams come true.” Over the past two decades, many wide-eyed young players in the Braves organization achieved their dream of reaching the majors after training at the complex at Disney World.
“Disney has been a great partner for us, and the experience has always been top-notch for our fans,” Braves executive vice president Chip Moore told USA TODAY.
However, what he said are aging facilities and the need to be closer to the other teams in Florida prompted the team to search for a new springtime home.
“Our players were spending an average of two hours each way on buses for our away games, keeping them away from the time they needed to train,” Moore says.
The Braves considered both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of Florida, in search of a spot close to other big-league teams. Having driving routes was also an important consideration. North Port fit the bill.
“It’s as simple as this,” Moore says. “You take a right and then a left out of (Atlanta’s) SunTrust Park, then stay on I-75 to the River Road exit in Florida and you’ll come into our complex.”
A new neighborhood
When the Braves conduct a full spring of training and exhibitions in North Port in 2020, the players will have a 13-mile bus ride to the Rays’ complex in Port Charlotte and a 30-mile trek to play the Orioles in Sarasota.
The Red Sox and Twins are an hour away in Fort Myers, and in the Tampa Bay area are the Pirates in Bradenton, the Phillies in Clearwater, the Blue Jays in Dunedin and the Yankees in Tampa.
“Being in the center of all of those other clubs was a great selling point to our baseball people on all levels,” Moore says.
Local officials are overjoyed the Braves are coming to town.
“Just the announcement that the Braves are coming had an economic impact,” North Port’s City Manager Peter Lear said. “I’ve worked for the city for 11 years, and for that whole time, we tried to get a major hotel chain to build here. We now have four that are interested.”
Just a glimpse
With the state, county, city and Braves combining to pay the $125 million cost of the new complex, doesn’t the team want to use it as soon as possible?
Had a hurricane like the one that threatened the Gulf Coast in 2017 occurred during the construction of the complex in 2018, work could’ve stopped for as much as a month. Moore said that would’ve jeopardized completion in time for pitchers and catchers to report this week.
“It was too risky to count on spring training here this year. We had to consider our 220 players and our fans who had to plan their travel.”
Lear felt The Braves Way was on display. “The professionalism the organization showed during this process was amazing,” he says.
When they decided to play a single game in North Port this year, the Braves were borrowing from their own playbook. In 1997, the team was preparing the move of their spring training headquarters to Disney World but played only a single game there. The following day, they played an exhibition at Turner Field, which had just been converted from the main stadium for the 1996 Sum-
When it came time to open SunTrust Park in Atlanta in 2017, the team again played exhibition games there just before the start of the regular season. “We like to have a dry run to learn the building and understand the operation a little better,” Moore revealed. “And it lets us have two opening days in North Port — one in 2019 and another in 2020.”
When tickets for the March 24 exhibition went on sale, they sold out in less than two hours. “We knew from our season ticket sales that this was Braves Country, where a lot of fans had grown up watching the Braves on super- station (WTBS),” he said. What the lucky ones will see
Fans with tickets for the game at CoolToday Park will experience a state-of-the-art facility that Moore indicated will be almost 100 percent completed.
The main concourse is “one of the cleanest I’ve ever designed,” says architect Jonathan Cole of Pendulum, designer of the ballpark. Gone are the exposed pipes and multiple kiosks impeding traffic flow at other spring training parks. At 16 feet above ground level, the prevailing winds in the area create comfortable breezes on the concourse.
But the aspect of the park that will have fans talking will be the emphasis on the Braves’ history. In addition to 14 40-foot-tall images of Hall of Famers who have played for the team (that may or may not be erected by March 24), a series of motivational phrases once uttered by someone connected to the Braves appear every 24 feet as you stroll around the concourse.
“It’s like a walking tour of The Braves Way,” Cole said. “It’s something that that fans who’ve been to a lot of parks are going to appreciate.”
Moore said his two favorite features of the park are the Tomahawk Tiki Bar in left field and suites that are on field level in the outfield.
And of utmost importance to many who travel to Florida in March is being able to meet their favorite players. Moore credits John Schuerholz, the Braves’ former president and a Hall of Famer, with insisting that fans have access to players, “because that’s such a big part of spring training.”
Cole hopes fans coming to CoolToday Park will experience “emotional muscle memory — what do you remember about going to games as a kid? How did you feel? We want you to come here, walk up the grand stairs, see the field for the first time and say to yourself, ‘This feels right.’ ”
When they decided to play a single game in North Port this year, the Braves were actually borrowing from their own playbook.
CoolToday Park will be the new Braves’ spring training facility in 2020.