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Official Review by Michael Rusignuolo, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
West Palm Beach, Florida, looked to bring the Grapefruit League to their city with a 2015 proposal for a dual-team park, riding the trend of trying to consolidate Spring Training locations in fewer parks closer to each other that has proven so successful in the Cactus League. The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros, both formerly in the northeast of the state, signed on to move closer to the spring homes of the Mets, Cardinals, and Marlins.
Construction came down to the wire, but the 6,500-seat Ballpark of the Palm Beaches opened for business and baseball just in time for the 2017 season. After the Grapefruit League finishes, the park will host the Astros Gulf Coast minor league squads, Keiser University baseball, and other events throughout the year.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
All the regular ballpark food is on the menu, but there's not a lot of options. There are concessions stands built in along the promenade, as well as carts at regular intervals in the outfield. They all go by different names, but mostly serve up different versions of the same standard menu.
Burger, Veggie Burger, and Chicken Sandwich combos with fries are all $10. Pulled pork sandwiches and chicken tenders are also $10, with brats for $7 and hot dogs for $5. Stix serves up grilled skewered chicken or pork with kettle chips for $12, Beachwood Burgers ($12 for various specialty burgers), the Liberty Bell ($12 cheese steaks), and the Lone Star Cantina ($8-$12 for tacos and nachos supreme). In left, the Hickory Sausage Shack delivers $12 foot-long hot dogs and brats, or $7 Italian sausages, jalapeno cheddar sausages, or Palm Beach Half Smokes.
The drinks selection is similar; most concessions carry the Bud family and Stella at $10.50 for a 24-ounce souvenir cup and 16-ounce for $7.50. The District Tap Room in the home plate plaza offers slightly more variety at the same prices. You can get Shiner Bock, Ruby Redbird, Shock Top, and Goose IPA, as well as $11 daiquiris and $9 wines. Pepsi is the soda family of choice in the new park, with souvenir sodas selling for $7, and regular sodas and bottled water for $4.50.
The food and drink choices are pretty average, but the Stix cart ($12) in the home plate plaza is surprisingly tasty, as are the $8 for-a-pair tacos at the Lone Star Cantina in right field. Wash it down with a generous souvenir draft ($10.50)--my choice is the Ruby Redbird for a hot spring afternoon.
The Ballpark at the Palm Beaches wasn't quite completely finished for their opening season in 2017, so there are rough edges for the first year. It is undoubtedly a fine, new minor league and Spring Training facility, but it doesn't stand out in many ways like the elaborate parks in Fort Myers, or the recent Cactus League palaces such as Walking Stick or Sloan Field.
The ballpark is a modern, all-inclusive Spring Training complex featuring not only a main stadium, but practice and conditioning facilities for both teams that surround the main park- the Astros on the first base side and the Nationals on the third base side of the stadium. The training fields are open to the public and a great place to grab an autograph or watch favorite players up close.
The main ballpark follows a common minor league layout, with the single main entrance opening out onto a main promenade that circles the entire park. All seating (except for the luxury boxes and party areas that are in an upper deck) descends down from the promenade. Regular seats are in the areas into the short outfield, while the General Admissions Banana Boat lawn extends around the outfield. The giant video scoreboard sits out in right field, near the bullpen. For the last few rows, shade awnings extend over the infield seating, providing some cover from the Florida sun or spring showers.
Weird-looking alien mascot Orbit takes the trip east for Spring Training, interacting with the fans before and after the game, and leading the between-inning contests and quizzes. The Houston mainstay sing-along for "Deep in the Heart of Texas" also makes an appearance, and it gets a big reaction from the crowd even during Spring Training.
While West Palm Beach isn't a hot Spring Break destination, the area has gotten a good deal of recent press due to President Trump's weekly visits to one of his Florida golf clubs and resort in the city. But the ballpark itself is nestled in the residential area of the city in the northwest, west of the lakes and a good five miles away from the beach. This has its good and bad points. If you're opposed to the beach scene, the stadium is well enough away that you can avoid it all easily, but if you're looking to hit the beach after a game, five miles is a pretty short drive.
The ballpark is located a bit of a drive from downtown West Palm Beach, which is a shame, because that is where most of the good restaurants are. Outside of a local pizza and pasta joint right by the park, it is mostly mall chains around the park.
You can drive 10 minutes north up I-95 to Palm Beach Gardens, or 15 or so minutes south to downtown West Palm Beach to get actual restaurants. Park at City Place in downtown and walk around until you find an eatery that suits your fancy.
The ballpark is a good distance from the beach and downtown, but the good news is that it is closer to the many nature areas in the west of the city (Winding Waters, Dyer Park, SWA Greenway) as well as four of the ever-present Florida golf courses, including the aforementioned Trump International.
If you're looking for water fun without the nature, the Rapids Water Park is just north of the park. Further east at the beach in Riviera, there are several casino boats and shuttles and boat tours to Peanut Island Park, as well as family-friendly Manatee Lagoon. A short drive will take you out to Singer Island for all the beach resorts. The rest of the attractions, such as the zoo, the Norton Museum of Art, and the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, are located further south of the airport and by downtown.
The closest nest of hotels is to the east of the park by I-95, with a Homewood Suites by Hilton, and Extended Stay America, Holiday Inn Express and many more.
The Astros have nowhere to go but up. They have habitually been not just the low-man on the totem pole for Grapefruit League attendance, but you have to go all the way back to 2011 to find a year when they weren't dead-last in attendance for all of Spring Training--Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues combined.
Recent on-field success and a new park in a better location were all hoped to get the Astros out of the bottom of the heap. But it doesn't seem to have worked out that way. A usually marquee game of the stadium's two home teams, facing off in the park's first season on a weekend barely filled 75% of the park. Another game saw the home fans decisively outnumbered by rooters for the visiting team. Not much seems to have changed for the Astros weak draw, and they are definitely the junior partner at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
The clearly die-hard Astros faithful that do make it to the games make a respectable showing, and for good or bad, there's plenty singing along loudly during the seventh-inning stretch.
The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is about a block and half from both Interstate 95 and the Florida Turnpike, making it a quick jump off either highway to the park.
Florida is not known for its mass transit, but if you're up for a bit of a walk, Palm Tran bus line 31 (Medical Center/$1) will get you within walking distance of the park and hooks up with bus lines leading to the airport and downtown. Air travelers have easy access to West Palm Beach International Airport, about 10 minutes south of the park.
Parking is on two simple grass lots that will both set you back a league-average $10 per game. The smaller north lot is located next to the Astros practice fields, while the longer, block-long lot on the south of the complex is by the Nationals practice facilities. It is relatively quick in and out, and a short distance to major roads leading out of the area.
Booking the trend for new parks with many entrances, the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches has only one, large entrance right by home plate. In keeping with MLB's new policies, the entrance has metal detectors for all patrons before entrance. While the single entrance with an additional metal detector hurdle could lead to delays, the gates open a fan friendly 2.5 hours before the start of the game and most backups can be avoided.
While Spring Training is always a cheaper option for fans to get a close-up view of their favorite stars, the Ballpark at the Palm Beaches doesn't fully deliver on that promise. While towing the Grapefruit League average for many items, the ticket and food prices are definitely more costly than elsewhere in the state.
The Astros and Nationals share a pricing structure--which is very generous to the poorly drawing Astros. Seating is in three tiers of games (Regular/Prime/Premier) and broken up into Home Plate Boxes ($42-$65), Field Boxes (next to the Nationals dugout, $37-$56), Dugout Boxes (first base field level, $31-$47), Infield Boxes (upper field level, $28-$42), outfield reserve (short outfield areas, $23-$32), and lawn (center, right, and a section of left field, $15-$20). All of these prices are above the league average, but perhaps expected for a new stadium in its first year.
Outfield Reserved seats (sections 100-1 and 117-123) are perhaps the best bargain in the park. They are the second-cheapest seats, still quite near the action, and are in prime foul-ball territory, as long as you don't mind getting some sun.
Especially given the underwhelming selection, the food is a lot more pricey than it should be, with many to most offerings over $10, though the beer prices are around the league average. Parking is at the nearly league-wide $10, and the program (with different content for the Nationals and Astros) is also a league average $5.
New stadiums generally aren't drowning in extras in their first year, and the Ballpark at the Palm Beaches is no exception. Signs abound of the incomplete and new construction, from still-buttressed palm trees, to incomplete parking lots, and missing signs.
That said, you can't take away from the ambitious landscaping for the park. A main entrance road is flanked by rows of palm trees and two decorative lakes, with giant Astros and Nationals logos marking their training areas. Each training area leads to the main entrance with mirrored boardwalk bridges with colorful baseball decorations. There are plaques to the Founders Club of park sponsors and to the park dedication in 2017. Besides that, there's not much else for memorials in a new park.
The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is a solid new park well worth a visit, but it currently doesn't stand out from the crowd in many ways. Time will tell if it grows into something more.
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6000 N Flagler Dr
West Palm Beach, FL 33407
2485 Metrocentre Blvd
West Palm Beach, FL 44307