Joker Marchant Stadium – Lakeland Flying Tigers
Photos by Chirs Green, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Joker Marchant Stadium 2301 Lakeland Hills Blvd Lakeland, FL 33805
Year Opened: 1966 Capacity: 8,500
Nestled on the shores of Lake Parker and almost perfectly halfway between Orlando and Tampa sits perhaps the most beautiful stadium of Florida’s wide array of MiLB homes. Easily driven past while en route to one of the two aforementioned major Florida cities while on I-4, the idyllic Central Florida city of Lakeland is the perfect location to feature minor league baseball without the hassles of Florida’s other distractions.
The Flying Tigers team plays in an aesthetically pleasing stadium, features a unique logo and color scheme that pays homage to Florida’s WWII aviation history, and is also close enough to both cities to not be too far of a drive. While Detroit Tigers faithful may flock here to watch the stars of tomorrow, locals also show their support, making this one of the best MiLB visits in the area.
Food & Beverage 4
The food options in Lakeland are plentiful, and feature both your standard ballpark classics as well as twists on your everyday sports favorites; hot dogs and burgers ($4-$6 and $7.50 respectively) are on the list, as is pizza from Little Caesar’s ($5 for a slice or $15 for a whole pizza). Drinks range from $4 for a Mike’s Hard Lemonade to $7 for premium drafts, while bottomless popcorn ($10) comes served in a batting helmet at Publix Field, as do Chili Cheese Fries ($7). Additionally, several games during the year offer all you can eat food packages.
Joker Marchant Stadium is a stunning facility, thanks in part to its latest renovation in 2017. A beautifully manicured outside parking area welcomes visitors, and the interior of the stadium is equally as clean. Once inside, the concourse is easy to navigate with signage all over the facility to direct you where you want to go. In addition, safety is of top concern here, with protective netting covering the entirety of the left and right field lines to the end of the seating – this means fans can enjoy the game without worrying about leaving the game with a concussion from a fly ball.
However, the lack of crowds during day games in the middle of the summer is a drag on that vaunted stadium feel one looks for when visiting minor league baseball venues. With that said, a clean venue, modern touches, and a comfortable feel make up for what is lost. The outfield also features a massive HD video scoreboard, and below it, a green patch of grass that makes up the outfield viewing berm.
The name Flying Tigers is a reference to Lakeland's roots as a World War II training site for American and British pilots; from 1940-1945, the Lakeland School of Aeronautics graduated more than 8,000 airmen.
Lakeland isn’t a sprawling metropolis. That said, it features everything you need for your visit to be enjoyable. First off, Orlando and Tampa are almost equidistant from Lakeland, about 30 minutes away in either direction along I-4.
For lodging options nearby, your closest options are right off I-4, a few miles from the stadium; here you can find Motel 6, La Quinta, and Ramada. For food, locals flock to Mojo Federal for local BBQ, as well as Harry’s Seafood or Molly McHugh’s Irish Pub. Lastly, for things to see and do, the Fantasy of Flight Air Museum is just a 15-minute drive east on I-4, and Dinosaur World is almost the same distance traveling west.
Downtown Lakeland itself has experienced a revitalization in recent years, with historic shops and restaurants finding new life. You can easily find a great drink at some local bars like Revival Lakeland.
As with any Florida League team, the weather is a big deterrent for the average fan attending a game – it’s either going to be hot or rainy on any given day. That said, the fans in Lakeland do turn out on weekends and for evening games, and a loyal contingent of locals have embraced the team. In addition, the design of Joker Marchant Stadium helps amplify the crowd noise, making it seem a lot more packed than it might be. Games usually also feature a large contingent of families, with young fans and youth baseball and softball players making up a big part of the crowd on many game days.
To get to the home of the Flying Tigers, I-4 is the best bet; exit 33 on I-4 will drop you off just a few miles north of the stadium. From here, drive south on Lakeland Hills Blvd and Joker Marchant Stadium will be right outside your car window. On-site parking is plentiful, and signage on the highway helps direct you to the right exit when driving by.
Return on Investment 4
Ticket prices for Flying Tigers games begin at $10 and go up to $14, which is pretty standard for ticket pricing in the Florida State League. For the price of admission, however, you get to see MiLB in a beautiful facility in a beautiful location. With concessions prices relatively inexpensive as well, the Flying Tigers provide the perfect opportunity for a family to visit a minor league ballpark that isn’t a nightmare to get to and is relatively close to two of Florida’s biggest cities. But perhaps the biggest saver in Lakeland is the free parking, available to all fans for all games during the season.
The stadium features a statue outside the main entrance of Publix founder George Jenkins and Joker Marchant, the city of Lakeland’s longtime parks and recreation director, for whom the stadium is named. You can also find both the starting lineups and a painted map of all of Florida’s Spring Training and MiLB teams on the walls of the main concourse.
The facility also features player autograph sessions before some games, meaning fans get to meet some of tomorrow’s stars today.
Publix Field at Joker Merchant Stadium is a beautiful facility thanks to its latest renovation, and the Flying Tigers are a team that tends to get lost in the shuffle of Florida’s bustling sports world but is no less deserving of a visit. Located perfectly between Orlando and Tampa, this facility is close enough to both metropolises to be a short drive, while also being a nice break from city life. Easily one of the best facilities in the Florida State League, things are looking up for the Flying Tigers.