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Top 12 Professional Ballparks in Florida

By Jim Dietrich -- December 12, 2012 2:10 PM EST

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Though the earliest Major League Baseball established a permanent summer home in Florida was 1993, America's Pastime has been part of the fabric of the Sunshine State since the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Browns, the first two teams to arrive, started holding spring training in Tampa and St. Petersburg almost 100 years ago. Now, there are two MLB facilities, two Southern League teams, the oldest MiLB-affiliated 12-team Florida State League — with all but one of their stadiums used in the spring, four additional stadiums that are frequented mainly in the spring, and even one spring ballpark that turns to soccer in the summer. Here are the Top 12 pro ballparks you must visit in Florida.

  1. Pensacola Bayfront Stadium - Home of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos

    After a complex sequence of negotiations, Pensacola received a minor league baseball team in time for the 2012 season. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are a young team, but they are slowly building into a contender.

    The real story in Pensacola, though, isn’t the team, but rather where they play. Their home is a shiny new park that cost $18 million to build. The whole project (the stadium and the surrounding park) cost a whopping $54 million. If you ask anyone who’s visited Community Maritime Park, they’d tell you it’s money well spent.

  2. Ed Smith Stadium - Home of the Baltimore Orioles Spring Training

    Even though it was built in 1989, a renovation was badly needed to keep Ed Smith Stadium a viable option for Major League teams. Thankfully, the Orioles organization were open enough to make their own, custom upgrades to this park. They obviously put a lot of care and thoughtfulness into the redesign, and it shows in every minute detail.

    Sarasota now has a stadium they can be proud of again; since the team isn't going anywhere for a while, you'll definitely have a chance to see this new jewel in the crown of the Grapefruit League.

  3. Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville - Home of the Jacksonville Suns

    Opened in 2003 as part of the "Better Jacksonville Plan," the ballpark is part of the sports complex that includes Everbank Field and the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. It may be smaller than these other two venues, but it is certainly worth visiting.

  4. Jackie Robinson Ballpark - Home of the Daytona Tortugas

    The Daytona Cubs are the 2011 champions in the Florida State League. In fact, they have won the championship in this league twice in the last four years and five times overall. So, if you’re a Cubs fan and you’ve been waiting all your life to see your Cubbies win a championship, maybe you just need to pay a visit to Daytona Beach. It’s Cubs baseball like you like it. It’s in a historic old ballpark only three months newer than Wrigley Field with loyal fans and a great atmosphere, but here, the home team wins a few.

  5. McKechnie Field - Home of the Bradenton Marauders

    Bucking the trend of new and extravagant stadiums, McKechnie Field near downtown Bradenton has stood the test of time and is approaching its 90th birthday, making it the 2nd-oldest stadium in the Florida State League (behind only Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona Beach), and the oldest park used in Major League Baseball spring training by being the spring home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

  6. Bright House Field - Home of the Clearwater Threshers

    Clearwater has made Sports Illustrated's list as the #1 sports city in Florida in large part to Bright House FIeld, both in spring with the Philadelphia Phillies and their prime farm team in the summer. The Threshers have proven, with championships in the FSL, they're a premier team in a top-notch park, one that also hosted the Big East tournament and FSL All-Star Game in 2011.

  7. Tropicana Field - Home of the Tampa Bay Rays

    This was the only one of the MLB parks to make the list. Overall, the Trop — like Tampa Bay as a whole and St. Petersburg in particular — is quirky, but in a very lovable way. It has the same features as other great ballparks around the league, just in a form in which you may not be used to seeing. There might be some hope for this park yet, if you get past the bad press from the talking heads, that is.

  8. JetBlue Park - Home of the Boston Red Sox Spring Training

    Sure, the park is immaculately-detailed, full of history, and a great facsimile of Fenway Park, but that might be the problem. A great time can be had and one can enjoy themselves, but the connection to the original almost feels forced. It should have been allowed to happen naturally and not created as the singular goal of bringing Fenway to Florida. Yes, the Monster and dimensions would need to be there to allow it to happen organically, but the pricing is nearly-prohibitive, the traffic is a nightmare, and the neighborhood just isn't there.

  9. Florida Auto Exchange Stadium - Home of the Dunedin Blue Jays

    Everyone knows going into minor league baseball, especially High-A ball, not to expect the flashy incarnation of America's Pastime that's seen on TV every night from April to October; this is much different. This is gritty, no-frills, back-to-basics baseball, and Dunedin's Florida Auto Exchange Stadium delivers that perfectly, both as the spring home to the Toronto Blue Jays and as the "D-Jays'" summer home.

    What it lacks in glitter and refinement, it makes up for in charm and character. It may only be 21-years old, but it aged much better than some of its contemporaries (like Ed Smith Stadium before the renovation) and isn't needing a major overhaul anytime soon.

  10. Al Lang Stadium - Home of the St. Pete International Baseball

    The namesake stadium of the "father of modern spring training" almost faced the wrecking ball as late as 2009. It was believed this jewel would be lost forever for the new pride of the Rays that will now never be. The stadium, now housing both the Canadian and Dutch national baseball teams, just won't go quietly and is showing its age; while worn, technologically-impaired, and spartan, it has all the heart and soul of a centenarian that has done and seen it all and would like to share those experiences with you. It also has life after the spring as the summer home of the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

  11. Joker Marchant Stadium - Home of the Lakeland Flying Tigers

    Also the spring home of the Detroit Tigers, this ode to history also contains all the modern touches one expects in MiLB stadiums of today: video scoreboards, a variety of food choices, and plenty of in-game entertainment. A visit to Joker Marchant Stadium is a special experience, no matter the season, and one that will have you leaving feeling complete and satisfied. If you're ever in or around Lakeland (it's only 40 minutes from Disney and 30 minutes from Tampa), you must put a game here on your to-do list.

  12. Osceola County Stadium - Home of the Houston Astros Spring Training

    There weren't a lot of extras. Some might say that's a good thing. Nobody was screaming into a mic in-between innings. There were no t-shirts being thrown around in the stands, no dopey contests to see who can eat the most or put on frozen garments the fastest. This is actually a nice change of pace from the norm of spring training. There's nothing wrong with getting a free t-shirt or watching a couple of guys trying to see who can eat a burrito the fastest, but sometimes it's nice to just relax and watch the game.

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