It's 1958, and you're a New Yorker. The New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers just left town for sunny California, leaving just the Yankees as the lone standard barer for the largest city in the United States in the Major Leagues. You are forced to root for a team which you always rooted against for the next few years until the National League relented and expanded a new team to the area in 1962, taking the name of an American Association team from the 1800s.
The newly-formed Metropolitans needed a place to play spring training, and starting in their first year of being a National League team, they took over the Yankees' spot in St. Petersburg at Al Lang Stadium, which they shared with the St. Louis Cardinals. There they stayed in the venerable ballpark by the Bay, even through a rebuilding of Al Lang in 1977, given the New York fan base that was built up with the Yankees decades before.
In 1987, however, the Mets were — after their second World Series title — looking for their own home and found one in Port St. Lucie on the east coast. Along with it came a brand new Florida State League team they could call their own, the St. Lucie Mets. Since their formation in 1987, the mini Mets have won their division five times, and each time have won the FSL league title, making them tied for the most league titles in that time period with the other New York farm team in Florida, the Tampa Yankees.
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 sheer volume of variety alone would have given this category a perfect score. From the staples (of which, the hot dogs are none other than Nathan's) to name brands like Nestle (chocolate and strawberry milk) to Starbucks - and even another Nathan's creation, the "hot dog nuggets" - and specialties like a "Taco in a Helmet" (which is exactly what it sounds like: taco meat, the fixings, salsa, and cheese in a bowl-sized Mets helmet) and a shrimp and fries basket.
They even offer healthy options like deli wraps, Caesar salads, and fruit salads.
But what really sets this over-the-top is, other than cheesesteaks and the shrimp basket, every single item of food and drink in the park - yes, even draught beer - is $5 or less (those two exceptions are $6). Talk about leaving full, satisfied, and happy!
The stadium was built in 1987, but for the most part still looks as good as the day it opened. The façade has a fresh and modern look with the all-glass press and suite elevator, and the landscaping around the park is simply breathtaking. Plus, the design of the park allows for a breeze almost nonstop, something that was welcome with the temperature being about 94˚.
The only thing I wasn't thrilled with was the over-utilizing of sound effects and cheesy noises on the otherwise great sound system to try and animate the crowd. It felt like after almost every pitch was followed by some kitschy noise, be it the "Our Princess Is In Another Castle" theme at the end of the inning (which I love!) or a random "FOOOOUL!" every time one happens (which I didn't). Engaging to the kids, sure, but the adults like me probably could do without.
Nothing special nor fancy, the stadium grounds are surrounded by commercial to its south, industrial to its west and north, and residential to the east. Not really walkable, but a short two-minute drive gets you back onto St. Lucie West Blvd, which houses most of the traditional Florida strip malls and chain restaurants that, despite their typicalness, are good places to go pre- and post-game.
There was a decent-sized crowd when I went, being a Saturday night "Subtropical Subway Series" and all; I'd estimate a couple thousand were there in the sultry evening. By the sound of things, however, I believe more were there for the Yanks than the Mets. Seeing as the Yankees moved spring training from not-too-distant Fort Lauderdale in 1995, and a lot of people from New York move to the east coast of Florida anyway, it's not too unexpected. However, since the Mets are the home team, and the T-Yanks play four long hours away via State Road 60, you would think, even unlike Citi Field, they would have a true homefield-advantage. I guess, no matter what level of baseball and no matter where you go, the Yankees faithful will follow.
In close proximity to Interstate 95 and Florida's Turnpike (via I-95), getting into and out of the park is a piece of cake. Plus, they have something I believe should be a requirement at every and all minor-league ballparks in Florida and any other areas that have Major League competitors: free parking, and lots of it, too.
Okay, so why not a perfect score? Simple: the concourse is way too narrow, especially around home plate; only one point to enter/exit the park, and the beautiful berm was closed-off on the night I was there, a night you would figure would be perfect for chilling in the grass. Also, the bathrooms are clean and functional, though not really large enough.
Tickets are cheap, with $6 general admission available everywhere except for the front three rows behind home plate, which are $8. And though the MLB Mets are nothing you wanna run home and tell your family about as of late, the Mini Mets are always exciting to watch.
The biggest extra that's here is the Tiki Bar, which is a full-service liquor bar along the 3rd-base line, complete with tiered, patio seating that can be reserved for large groups. Something else for groups are the 1st- and 3rd-Base Party Decks (both in the main grandstand structure) and three suites.
There's also my personal favorite, a right-field berm that extends out to right-center, though it wasn't open when I was there. I'm not sure if it's always closed for minor league games, but if it is, it's a pity. I'd pay double to go out there if it means I can lay in the grass all day.
Finally, something cool is the "Taco Bell K-Man of the Game", where the team picks an opponent's player at-random and if he is struck out during the game, everyone gets a free taco. If that doesn't make you pay attention to the scorecard, I don't know what will.
When the New York Mets decided to leave the west coast of Florida for the east, they brought with them a tradition they worked hard to build in a short 26 years. Though originally named for the man who convinced them to move to Port St. Lucie from St. Pete, Thomas J. White, the Mets honored that winning spirit (before and after a brief stint of corporate sponsorship as Digital Domain park) with a renaming of the stadium to - simply - Tradition Field.
The current New York Mets may be a team in-flux right now, but you'd never tell that on the minor-league level. A nice ballpark in a good neighborhood with a sizable fan base is something that shows there is a lot of longevity in the St. Lucie Mets. It may not be the flashiest stadium, and it's far from the newest, but it definitely is - like the Amazin's of yore - gritty, honest, and a fun all-around time.
Check out the piece from the World Trade Center in front. Few people notice this as it appears to be a sculpture of some sort but it is certainly a return to reality when you realize what it represents.
Fried Oreos available inside. Fans stayed until the 12 inning game was complete. Good fun!
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