Have you ever stumbled upon something that few people know about and are hesitant to tell everyone? I did this past weekend. I almost hate to write this article but, that’s what we do here at Stadium Journey. So, those of you smart enough to read our little publication are going to find out about this well kept secret. But don’t tell anyone.
I’ve lived in Florida all my life, so I’ve visited many Spring Training venues. I think I have just found my permanent one. It’s right off Florida's Turnpike near Kissimmee. I went there last Sunday for the Pirates / Astros game. From my house, I was in the parking lot in less than an hour and a half. From there, it was just a short walk into the ballpark. That is a big plus, especially as I get older.
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".
There is plenty to choose from at Osceola County Stadium in the food department. They have Papa John's Pizza. They have the standard ball park fare of burgers, hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, etc. They've got kielbasa, turkey legs, barbeque, and probably more than I can even recall. In fact, they have a food court, much like you'd see at a shopping mall. Of course, the prices were high. They were much higher than you'd see at a college baseball park. I bought a hot dog and a Coke and it set me back almost $7.00. But this is the Big Leagues, so that's to be expected.
The ushers are very friendly and very knowledgeable and are willing to talk to you about the games. I arrived in time for batting practice and after I got there, a line drive almost knocked me down. I picked up the ball and one of the ushers asked if I was hurt. I told her that I was fine and she then offered to clean the ball for me. I've never had that happen before. While walking around, another usher told me that the game would probably be about half-empty so I could sit anywhere I wanted even though they had no GA seating. He told me that the Yankees, Cardinals, or Tigers usually fill the place up, but today would be no problem. He was exactly right. The Pirates game filled the 5500-seat stadium about halfway. Perfect. There was plenty of elbow room, but still enough fans to make some noise.
There really isn't that much of a neighborhood to speak of. The place is surrounded by baseball fields. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Many stadiums are right next to crime-infested neighborhoods, such as the Amway Center where the Magic plays. Not this place. And if you wish to avoid high ballpark prices, there are many fast food places just a short drive away.
The fans were great, what few of them there were. About half of them were for the Pirates and they sat on the first base side. The other half were for the Astros and they sat mostly on the third base side. They cheered whenever something good happened for their team, but none were confrontational to the other side. There were many folks wearing the black and yellow synonymous with Pittsburgh's sports teams, and many folks wearing the red clay-colored Astros gear. But there were a lot of folks there just to watch a big league baseball game that didn't have a dog in the fight, so you saw some Rays caps, Marlins caps, Red Sox caps, etc., in the stands, too. Everyone was having a good time. Many decided to go hang out in right field to try and catch a foul ball. Some were successful.
There was a good mix of older people, people with kids, younger people with their friends, all sorts of folks. Some even came in large groups. One lady told me that a group of 25 can get tickets for $6.00 each. How do you beat that?
Are you kidding me? It can't be any easier. Why didn't I know about this sooner? Instead of going to the Braves games and fighting Disney traffic, you peel off one exit sooner on Interstate 4 and get on the Turnpike. From there you drive 15 minutes, peel off at the exit to the ballpark, pay a $1.25 toll, and you're there. From my house, it takes less than an hour and a half to get there. I can probably get to the Nationals games in Viera in about the same amount of time, and the Braves at Disney might take a bit longer. But I don't think any of them can get me as close to the ballpark from the parking lot.
The tickets are very reasonable and apparently plentiful. The souvenirs and the food is typically expensive as far as that goes, but no more than any other big-league ballpark. The action on the field is good, but of course it is spring training, so you are seeing a lot of minor-leaguers throughout the game and the game doesn't count, so you aren't getting the intensity of the regular season. But for what you get and what you spend, well worth it.
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. After watching college and minor league baseball as much as I have, that was actually a nice change. 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.
I celebrated visiting my 100th baseball stadium on my trip to Osceola County Stadium. More fans were applauding former Sr. President Bush than I and rightfully so.
Food: They had boiled peanuts. The real stuff (food) was on the first base / left field side. Hope they still have them.
Atmosphere: Lots of interaction with fans. It is intimate and cozy.
Neighborhood: I don't remember. I have no recollection of fear in the area nor do I have one of the nearby facilities.
Fans: Spectacular! Helpful, friendly, and into the game. Very accommodating to visitors.
Access: I seem to remember it being pretty easy. Concourses may have gotten a bit crowded.
Return on Investment: Very much worth it if you're an Astro's fan and a fan of baseball
Extras: My 100th stadium and several accommodating fans to help me celebrate
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