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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
As spring training moved from an idle curiosity into big business in the early 1990s, communities throughout Florida tried to woo teams who were finding their old digs to be too small to accommodate the growing numbers of visiting fans. Two expansion teams were also targets at that time and Brevard County, located on the central east coast of Florida, was able to use the newly-built Space Coast Stadium to entice the Florida Marlins to move in.
When Jeffrey Loria bought the Marlins, the ballpark became the spring home of the Montreal Expos as the two franchises swapped their training facilities. Two years later, the Expos moved to Washington and Space Coast Stadium was repainted in Nationals' colors to serve as the spring training home of the Washington Nationals. These days, it is now one of the more visited ballparks in the Grapefruit League with the likes of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg plying their trade in March. During the summer though, it is home to the Brevard County Manatees, interestingly the High-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.
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".
Inside the park is a large concourse with a single concession stand that offers typical fare at average prices. Avoid this and instead make your way to the small drinks stand where Sal the bartender will happily pour you a draft beer for $2. This price is only good up until first pitch, after which it will cost you $7 to imbibe, so naturally Sal is a busy man in the hour before the game. Even then, he will be happy to talk to you about anything under the sun, as will many of his patrons. Definitely stop by here to add some local color to your visit. I did try a pretzel here and it was rather bland, but the availability of cheap beer and friendly conversation leads me to give food and beverage an average rating.
The Florida State League is unique among all affiliated minor circuits in that all but one of the stadiums are used by MLB teams during spring training, making them attractions in their own right. However, the crowds that turn out for the FSL games are perhaps 10% of capacity, which makes it difficult to give a fair grade on the atmosphere within the ballpark.
There are few promotions and mostly empty seats but even then, the weather and small details, such as an air raid siren after a run scored and kids running in from center field after the bottom of the 5th really helped. Add a beautiful sunset and you will have a very enjoyable evening despite the small crowd.
The stadium is surrounded by empty parking lots, a small commercial area, and some residential communities. Furthermore, there is little within a mile or two that is worth checking out. The whole area is called Space Coast because of nearby Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, but these are too far away to be truly called part of the neighborhood. Spend your afternoons elsewhere and just drive here for the game.
I really enjoyed the fans here; they were knowledgeable and seemed to be good friends with one another. Some had vuvuzelas, not as annoying when used in a vast and rather empty stadium. One gentleman was scoring the game on his iPhone, using an application called K Force or something similar. I much prefer the paper version but it was nice of him to give me a quick tutorial.
As well, I enjoyed talking to Howard, a season-ticket holder who had lived in the Toronto area and had no problem denigrating the work ethic of Canadians. He gave me a lot of insight into the development of the team as well as the surrounding area and was a big help in the preparation of this review.
The ballpark is located in Viera, one of many towns in the area. More famous spots include Cocoa Beach and Melbourne, so there is a substantial population from which to draw fans. However, with spring training the main attraction for one month a year, the minor leagues get short shrift once their season begins, which means that the stadium is essentially empty when the Manatees take the field.
Keep in mind that the stadium is used to handling 5,000 or more fans during the spring, so when 800 show up for a minor league game, much of the stadium is shut down and things are much more relaxed than they would be when the big leaguers are in town. This means that access is easy, with large concourses and open seating bowls presenting no problems.
The only reason this section gets docked a point is that parking can be a bit confusing for a newcomer. It took me a while to figure out that you should take gate 5 from Stadium Parkway and drive around the practice fields to park at the back.
You might notice signs declaring no umbrellas but you can safely ignore them for these games. Even the Manatees' bullpen had one!
Tickets here are $7, about average for this league, and you can sit anywhere as long as the seat doesn't have a yellow sticker indicating that it is reserved for a season ticket holder.
The seating bowl is huge and offers great sightlines from anywhere, particularly the lower rows behind the dugout. In the upper rows you can sit under a roof should it start to rain and these seats give you a nice view of the surrounding area. Foul ball hunters will love the bench seats down the lines.
Simply put, you cannot complain about such cheap entertainment.
Between the parking lot and the stadium, you will notice a miniature space shuttle and a statue of Casey of "Casey at the Bat" fame. There is a small pond here as well and the scenic beauty is worth a few minutes of wandering so get there a bit early.
The clock above the outfield wall also shows the temperature, which is critical in hot and humid Florida.
Jackie Robinson's 42 is on the outfield fence.
As well, a point for the team name Manatees, adding more local flavor rather than using the alliteratively pleasing but essentially meaningless Brevard County Brewers.
Although nearly 20 years old, Space Coast Stadium appears brand new, likely due to a large number of improvements that have been recently implemented. Wide-open and the home of good fans, I highly recommend this ballpark as a good place to begin a Florida State League stadium journey.
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