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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
The month of March means spring training to baseball fans. The sun is shining in Florida and all seems right with the world. The players are an interesting mix of relaxed veterans and desperate newcomers trying to impress enough to make the big club.
Fans arrive for a Grapefruit League game filled with optimism about their team’s chances. There is also the hope that they may be able to shake hands with their favorite player, get an autograph, or snag a foul ball. Many of the fans at a spring training game seem to be brimming with childlike glee, whether they are 4 or 84.
What better place to hold spring training than on the grounds of Walt Disney World? The Atlanta Braves play their spring training contests at Champion Stadium, part of the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at the Walt Disney World Resort. I can think of very few better family trip destinations than to combine a trip to see Mickey and friends and a trip to see spring training baseball.
In the summer, Champion Stadium is home to the Gulf Coast League Braves, a Rookie level affiliate of the Atlanta parent club. The venue was also host to some of the World Baseball Classic games in 2006. On two occasions, the Tampa Bay Rays have played three game series at Champion Stadium (2007 and 2008). In fact, the Rays are 6-0 all-time at Champion Stadium in MLB games.
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".
The food choices are a bit limited, but the great problem with the concession stands at Champion Stadium is the cramped concourses. I am sure that the size of the venue is adequate with smaller crowds or Gulf Coast league games, but during a Braves spring training game, you can expect long waits in line.
You can find very basic options like hot dogs, chili dogs, soft pretzels, and popcorn at Champion Stadium. I also found Caesar salad and Buffalo style chicken.
Coca-Cola products are available for $3.25, or Dasani bottled water for $3. Beer is sold at separate stands from the food. You can find a range of options including Pabst, Coors Light, Miller Lite, Red Stripe, and Foster's. Prices range from $6-$8.75 for large cans.
During the National Anthem all of the concession workers stopped and respectfully stood. It was a nice sign of patriotism, although I admit I was anxious to get my items so I could be in my seat for the first pitch.
Champion Stadium is a very comfortable place to see a game. The chairback seats offer above average legroom and cupholders. Metal bleacher seating is available down the right field line (sections 101-106), and there is berm seating down the left field line and in left field.
There is one very basic scoreboard in left field showing the line score, and pertinent stats. There is also a video board in right field which displays promotions and graphics (no replays).
Ushers are knowledgeable enough and respectful of the game and try to control the movement of fans during play. For the most part fans were pretty aware that they should wait to move about until the middle of an inning, or at least until the end of an at bat.
Overall, the game experience was a very "no frills" kind of atmosphere. I found myself happily sitting in the sun and enjoying baseball, which is exactly what spring training is all about.
You're within the Walt Disney World Resort, so there are plenty of other activities to enjoy nearby. Downtown Disney may be a good place to grab a meal, and I especially like Fulton's for their seafood.
Within the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex you can also grab some food at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Grill. They offer pretty typical bar food and drinks, but is a family-friendly environment, and a close choice if you are looking for a easy place to grab some food.
You're likely to find a pretty good mix of Braves fans, and whomever the Braves may be playing. Spring training fans are laid back and fairly reserved, appreciative of great plays made by either side. Everyone that I had a conversation with just seemed happy. It's nice to be surrounded by folks who are glad to be able to take in some baseball with Major League talent on the field.
Parking was free, which is always a good thing. The walk from the parking lot to the stadium was probably about a Ľ of a mile, but wasn't too arduous. I was surprised by how long it took to get to the lot and leave after the game. We hung around for the entire game, and then an additional half hour or so, and there was still a bit of a wait to get out of the lot.
The concourses are definitely cramped, and you can expect to have a wait if you need to use the rest room. This may be one stadium where you want to sneak out with two outs in an inning to get a jump on the rest rooms or concession stands.
Spring training game ticket prices vary based on the day of the week and the opponent. You would be wise to get your tickets in advance, as the Braves charge an additional $5 per ticket if they are purchased the day of the game. Lawn seats go for $15-$26, bleacher seats are $29-$41, upper deck are $29-$41, and lower chairback seats are $37-$51.
My recommendation would be to sit in sections 213-215 in the upper deck. You get a great view of the action of the field, and you may also be in a good position to catch a breeze if you are so lucky (which I was on this specific occasion).
Concession prices were reasonable, but lacked originality, and free parking was a nice plus. Overall, I thought the return on the investment was just about right for the total costs.
One extra point for the ability to have kids run the bases after the game. My 4 year-old son was with me, and he enjoyed it so much that he actually made a second trip around, and tried for a third before a staff member pointed him back to the stands. Mickey Mouse was also on hand to throw out a ceremonial first pitch, which was another thrill.
On my way out of Champion Stadium one of the vendors handed me a box of popcorn that had gone unsold during the game. I thought this was a nice gesture, and not something I have seen too often at a ball game.
Spring training is something that every baseball fan should plan on doing. It is a wonderful way to see some of your favorite MLB stars in a relaxed and intimate setting. The Atlanta Braves minor league experience at Champion Stadium is a great place for families to visit in connection with a trip to Walt Disney World. I know I was glad to have a stretch of three hours to just sit and relax after a taxing day of walking through the Magic Kingdom the day before.
Member Review by jbrady on Mar 25, 2012
We enjoyed a great day with a spring training game at Champions stadium. Staying nearby at Disneyworld it was a quick trip to the stadium. Parking was easy and free, but there are Disney complex busses that can take you from your hotel to the park. There were several restaurants and bars right outside of the stadium that looked like a good option even of you didn't have tickets to the game. Beer and food selection was good and we enjoyed our seats right behind homeplate. After the game they let all of the kids run the bases and our son loved that part.
Member Review by roadcone on Apr 28, 2012
Went to a game the year while on vacationing in Disney. Thought it be cool to see my beloved Yankees during a spring training game without paying Yankee Stadium prices. Ball park was very clean and well maintained. Not a huge selection on food. Long walk from the parking lot to the Stadium. Staff was fiendly and helpful, but the are employed by Disney. Had a beautiful breeze and nice and was cool in the hall ways. Bad thing, there is no shade in the ballpark were the seats are. Can you say holy hot! Maybe because I'm a new yorker and not used to 80+ degrees in March but that was insane. When the sun went behind the clouds it was delightful otherwise I looked like I just got out of a pool because I was sweating so much. My daughter and wife were miserable. They spent most of the game in the hallway
1670 N Buena Vista Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
1375 N Buena Vista Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
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