I had originally planned to attend the Marlins vs. Red Sox game at JetBlue Park today, but at the last minute I decided to visit a “new to me” Spring Training ballpark. After driving for about an hour I arrived in Port Charlotte, Florida. Charlotte Sports Park is home to the Charlotte Stone Crabs and is also the Spring Training home of the Tampa Bay Rays. Here she is:
Until the night before this, I was completely unaware that the Rays played in Port Charlotte. I also knew nothing about the complex or what it looked like. I tried to look for pictures online, but they didn’t help much. I decided that the best way to become familiar with the complex would be to arrive early. That’s what I did. I pulled into the parking lot at 7:00 am. and was at the gate to the practice fields by 7:10:
There was just one problem. The Rays’ training complex was not open to the public on game days. That meant that I would not be able to explore the practice fields. It also meant that I had gotten to the ballpark three extra hours early for nothing. Not entirely. I’ll explain, but first look at this map of the complex:
Since I had a lot of time on my hands I decided to explore other parts of the complex. I made my way back towards the home plate gate and then past the third base gate. I continued until I was near the pond that is behind the left field wall:
It was pretty gross looking back there. I found a few old baseballs and tennis balls that had already seen their better days:
Like I said, it was pretty gross back there. Later on I even found out there was an alligator back there! Good thing I left when I did. Yikes!
Take another look at this map:
I was extremely surprised, but I was able to snag a few baseballs out here! My first was thrown a pretty good distance by a Rays player who I didn’t recognize. Here’s a look at the Selig ball that he threw to me:
My next ball was another Selig ball, but this was a batting practice home run that I retrieved after it cleared the right field wall:
I was able to snag one more ball before heading to meet Grant Edrington, an established and respected Baltimore ballhawk, at the third base gate. This one was thrown by another Rays player who I didn’t recognize:
Grant and I both forgot to take a picture together, but here’s a picture of him that I got off his blog:
Once inside the gate, this was my view of home plate:
This was the view looking out towards the left field wall:
After walking towards the left field foul pole you will run into the boardwalk. The boardwalk extends from foul pole to fole pole and is great for getting around the stadium. This is the point of view from the left field corner looking towards center field:
When the Twins began their portion of batting practice Grant and I positioned ourselves along the boardwalk in left field. After a few batters had taken their cuts I was able to catch this Miguel Sano homer on the fly:
A few moments later Sano stepped back into the cage and I caught another that he sent my way. This time I had to reach over the railing of the boardwalk into the bullpen in order to make the grab. It was another pearly gem:
Grant was able to snag a few toss ups during batting practice, but otherwise we were both limited to a few balls when the Twins were on the field. One of the reasons was because Sano and Vargas simply hit the ball to far. Many times they sent the baseballs into the swampy pond outside the ballpark.
After batting practice we stayed on the left field side of the boardwalk because there were so many baseballs that were left in the bullpen from batting practice. You can’t see all of them from the picture, but there were nine baseballs scattered in the Twins’ bullpen:
Also, in case you’re wondering, Grant is the person in the forefront of the previous picture. At the time, he was talking to a kid who from New Jersey who we had met at the ballpark. I apologize for blanking on your name, but if you’re reading this please remind me of your name.
Sometime as the grounds crew was prepping the field for the game, Twins’ coach Neil Allen made his way out to the bullpen. He tossed me this somewhat used baseball:
Okay, I take it back. It was a Selig ball, so it was more than somewhat used. There were so many baseballs that he threw another to me:
There were still a few balls left in the corner of the bullpen when the game started. Mitch Garver was super nice and tossed one of them up to me:
When the game started the three of us went our separate ways and did our own thing for a while. I took a few laps around the ballpark and watched the game from different spots. When I came back to the Twins bullpen, I noticed there was still one ball left in the corner from batting practice. After politely getting Eric Fryers attention, it became my ninth ball of the day:
About 20 minutes after that, Coach Eddie Guardado threw me my tenth ball of the day. This one was used as a warm up ball for J.R. Graham before he entered the game to pitch the 7th inning for the Twins. Fryer ended up with the ball and then tossed it to Guardado. Guardado then threw it up to me:
Grant and I met up on the boardwalk in the 8th inning and we made our way to home plate. The view was great! Check this out:
Before I entered the stadium I expected it to be a pretty dumpy ballpark. The exterior is kind of ugly and most of the pictures online don’t make the ballpark look very good. Regardless of my expectations, I was thoroughly impressed with the interior of the ballpark. I really do think that this is a great ballpark to watch a game of baseball at. There is a nice cross aisle that allows fans to easily get from one baseline to the other. The boardwalk also serves the same purpose in the outfield. I love that there are grass berms for fans, and I especially like how the bullpens are set up so that fans can easily watch the activity in the ‘pen.
We made our way down to the dugout when the game finished, and Grant was able to snag one final ball of the day. I focused on getting a nice picture of the Rays celebrating their victory:
The game wasn’t terribly exciting. Both pitching staffs did a great job today, but unfortunately that usually makes for a long ballgame. The Twins allowed two runs off just five hits while the Rays only allowed one run off of seven hits. Here is the box score from the game (courtesy of espn.go):
I haven’t had time to take a group picture yet, but as soon as I do i’ll upload it here.
Today’s Total: 10 MLB balls (5 Manfred, 5 Selig).
Spring Training Totals: 27 MLB balls (20 Manfred, 7 Selig), 5 Minor League balls, 1 Perfect game ball, 1 Whiffle ball, 1 foam ball, and 12 autographs.
UP NEXT: Orioles vs. Twins @ Hammond Stadium (03-08-15)