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Official Review by Michael Rusignuolo, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Space Coast Stadium was built in 1994 to lure the then-new Florida Marlins to Viera, as part of the next-generation of Grapefruit League parks. But the Marlins then swapped spring training locales with the Jupiter-based Expos in 2005, and as part of the sordid story that turned the Expos into the Washington Nationals, the Nats have called the 8,100-seat facility home since their formation in 2008. In a rather unique situation, the Nationals share the park with the Florida State League Brevard County Manatees, an Advanced A franchise that was previously affiliated with the Expos, but swapped to the Brewers when the Nationals came into being without changing parks. This is the only such arrangement in the Grapefruit League.
Though there are plans afoot as early as 2017 for the Nationals and Astros to move in together at a new park in the Yankees' old haunt of Fort Lauderdale, Space Coast Stadium currently stands as an above-average Grapefruit League park, offering good services, if in suburban environs.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
With the exception of a small Tiki bar in the left field berm (that serves up Corona and mixed drinks), all the concessions are located in the spacious exterior concourse of the park, but with no view of the game while you're out getting grub. Most selections are located in the large general concession stands at regular intervals around the park, each with baseball-themed names. They all sell the same selection of ballpark standards (hot dogs, burgers, etc), but they also have different specialty baskets (entree plus fries).
Fresh Classics (third base) has a turkey sandwich and a Cuban sandwich ($9 each); Grand Slam Grill (home plate) has a half-pound cheeseburger ($10), grilled chicken sandwich ($10), chicken tenders ($9), and Italian sausage ($9); and Casey's Corner (first base) delivers Mahi Tacos ($10) and Bang-Bang or Fried Shrimp ($9). The signature park dish is the Monumental Dog ($9, kiosk is on the third base side), a ginormous hot dog evocative of the Washington Monument back home.
For your drinking pleasure, the regular concession stands sling Corona, Blue Moon, and Smith & Forge Cider for $9, and Coors Light, Miller Light, and Yuengling for $7. Leinenkugel's ($7) is available at a stand by home plate, and an import and craft beer stand along first base serves up $11 Flat Tire, Rogue, Lagunitas, and Corona selections.
The main park entrance is laid out as a rocket launch. The team store is on a lower level separate from the stadium, while patrons have to take stairs up the entrance plaza above the store and then walk over a gangway into the main park entrance. The only other way in is the season ticket holders entrance on the first base side. They get in an hour earlier than the regular fans (2.5 hours before the start of the game versus 1.5 hours), so if you pick up a season ticket in the secondary market, don't forget to enjoy this perk.
Before you get in, be sure to take in the practice fields right across from the main entrance. This is as close as you can get for free to the big league stars during workouts. Even better for autograph hunters is that the players take the short walk from the practice field entrance to the stadium players entrance before the gates open, and it is the perfect time to get a picture or an autograph with your favorite National. Once inside, you can also congregate on the home first base dugout during batting practice or after the game to try and get some John Hancocks.
As per usual, shade is at a premium in Spring Training parks. Outside of renting a luxury box, the uppermost handful of rows by first and third base (sections 204-206 and 216-218) are the only places to get out of the likely sun (or unlikely rain). But otherwise, all the seats offer a good view of the field. The wide interior walkway separates the reserved seats above with the box seats below. One nice touch is a home plate entrance ramp, sacrificing prime seating for a patron ramp that dumps you right into the action behind home plate.
The Presidents mascots don't make the trip to Florida, but there are a limited amount of between-inning activities reminiscent of the minor leagues, though those are further cut short by the new pace-of-play clock introduced in 2015.
Stadiums in the Grapefruit League are pretty clearly split between "resort stadiums" and "suburban stadiums," and Space Coast Stadium is solidly in the latter category, wedged between an elementary school and a Catholic Church. There are a bunch of chain restaurants and bars to be had in the area, but a dearth of local originals. If you're feeling like skipping the typical chain, then try Slow & Low Bar-B-Que (just north of the park), Mulligan's Grill (to the north, off Murrell Road), or Alamo Mexican Kitchen (on Route 1).
Even hotels are scarce. The closest is a Holiday Inn that lies a short ride south down 95. Further south on Route 1 provides a Candlewood Suites and Waterway Motel, and further north yields the modest Garden Court Motel. The only real variety of choices are further up 95 and 1 at Cocoa Beach.
Space Coast Stadium doesn't have a lot in the immediate locale, but it is in the area of some quality Florida entertainment. The Brevard Zoo is just south of the stadium for family fun, and Cocoa Beach lies a half hour to the northeast. Despite the promises of its name, Space Coast Stadium is just under an hour to the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral, but well worth the trip when traveling with kids or older space junkies. And all that Orlando can offer, mouse-related and otherwise, is about 45 minutes or so to the northwest.
With certain exceptions, Spring Training is a big draw, and the high-flying Nats are not one of those exceptions. Big crowds show up early, even for weekday games, and follow the team around from the practice fields into the main stadium. The stands are full, and in addition to seeking autographs and photos, the fans are into the game on the field and are loud and involved throughout.
Space Coast Stadium is a short detour off of I-95, and slightly further afield from Route 1. Space Coast Regional Airport is just to the northeast of the park, and Orlando International is about 40 minutes to the northwest. Palm Beach Airport is shy of two hours to the south. Parking is a Grapefruit League standard cost of $10, and getting in and out of the park is definitely enhanced by its suburban locale.
Space Coast Stadium itself is split into a standard interior and exterior walkways. A comfortably wide path in the seating bowl splits up the two seating sections and extends from left-center to right field, but not all the way around the park. This is connected with wide ramps to the even wider exterior walkway that goes from outfield to outfield behind home plate and houses most of the concessions.
For seeing up-close what has become the class of the National League East, Spring Training is quite the deal. Ticket prices are on three tiers (depending on opponent and event) of Regular, Prime, and Marquee, with prices ranging from $12-$35 ($35 for the best seat in the house is a big improvement over the DC alternative). Berm seating is available only for group events, and tickets go from $21-$34, including an all-you-can eat buffet.
Food and drink prices are generally within standard for the Grapefruit League ($4-$9), but a number of items sneak into the double-digits, though most of those are baskets that include an entree and a side of fries. In addition, souvenir sodas ($6) get $3 refills, and the Change Up Combo will snag you a jumbo hot dog, fries, and a drink for just $10.
Before you even enter the park, you'll find some extras worth noting. A statue of Casey (as in, "At the Bat" fame) smirks in his old-timey uniform by the parking lot. A short walk away is a scale model of the space shuttle, situated right behind the practice fields. Once inside, a monument to the two lost shuttles, Challenger and Columbia, are hung on pillars between the entrance and the ramp into the seating bowl.
The standard-issue program runs $5, and there are several places to buy it and other merchandise in addition to the program stands. The spacious main team store lies wedged underneath the elevated entry plaza, with a smaller stand above it in said plaza. Once inside, another smaller team store lies right by the main entrance. Fan services is in a small booth by the team store at the main entrance.
While its time with the Nationals may be numbered, Space Coast Stadium is definitely worth a visit for a cost friendly way to get up close and personal with your favorite Nationals stars in the Florida sun.
Member Review by StPeteRays on Mar 27, 2012
Hidden along Florida's Space Coast, an area of the Atlantic coastline which originally became famous during the 1950s and still is through today for being the epicenter of our modern day heroes mounted on mammoth rockets headed for the heavens, in a sleepy bedroom community is a very unsuspecting ballpark. In fact, if it weren't for the signs leading up to the Viera complex letting me know the Washington Nationals called it their spring home, I probably would have thought it belonged to a local college or something. Though, it's not like you could miss it, either, as its presence in an empty field across the street from a Catholic church can be perceived more than two miles away.
However, this isolation works in the stadium's favor, as this is the epitome of "purpose-built". Built in 1994, a couple years before the Yankees' new spring home and Florida State League affiliate's home in Tampa, Legends Field, opened and caused a new wave of purpose-built parks across Florida, Space Coast Stadium became the blueprint for how to build a spacious park far from the central business core and be successful; this was all done to maximize the fan experience both in-the-park and their ingress/egress.
The park was opened in-time for the then-Florida Marlins' second spring training, who used it as their March base of operations until the Montreal Expos moved in in 2003, when the Marlins switched with the Expos and moved to Jupiter's Roger Dean Stadium. By the Expos' relocation to the nation's capital in 2005, the Nationals inherited the rights to the park from its Canadian predecessor. Also located at the park are the Milwaukee Brewers' High-A team, the Brevard County Manatees, making for the only instance where a spring training team shares a ballpark with an unaffiliated minor league team (the Nationals' High-A team is located in Woodbridge, Virginia).
Member Review by hhuntley17 on Mar 16, 2015
I'm sure this was a suitable stadium back in the day, but it just feels outdated now
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