Braves move south:

Braves ready to move south

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Joe Mock Base­bal­lParks.com USA TO­DAY Net­work Mock op­er­ates Base­bal­lParks.com, an affili­ate of USA TO­DAY Sports Dig­i­tal Prop­er­ties. He has vis­ited all 203 parks cur­rently used for ma­jor league, spring train­ing and affili­ated Mi­nor League base­ball.

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-

mer Olympics.

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.’ ”

PEN­DU­LUM

When they de­cided to play a sin­gle game in North Port this year, the Braves were ac­tu­ally bor­row­ing from their own play­book.

BARTON MALOW

CoolTo­day Park will be the new Braves’ spring train­ing fa­cil­ity in 2020.

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