City of Palms Park

This article was originally published in 2005 by Ocean View Press and was written by contributor Paul Stanish. Although the Boston Red Sox no longer use the park for their spring training, we felt the article still serves some purpose in illustrating some of the parks pros and cons, as it is still in use today.

City of Palms Park
April 2005
by Paul Stanish

City Of Palms Park, Ft. Myers Florida

City of Palms Park, spring training home of the Boston Red Sox, is one of the nicest spring training parks to watch a game. All the seats have good sight lines toward the field, it’s small and cozy, many seating areas are in the shade, palm trees line the perimeter of the field as well as the perimeter of the block the park is on, and of course they sell beer in the stands.

More than the physical aspects of the park, you feel like you’re in a miniature Fenway, minus the green monster. People will boo and cheer as if it’s a playoff game. You can smell Papa Gino’s pizza, you’ll see the Boston Herald and Boston Globe newspaper stands at some of the gates, but most importantly you’ll hear words like “Nomahhhh” or the “pahking” is cheap here. There is no doubt that you’re in Boston RedSox territory.

Atmosphere: There is no doubt that you are in Florida as you approach City of Palms Park. The palms trees that line both Edison Avenue and the other surrounding streets around the ballpark is exactly what one would expect in southern Florida. There is definitely a relaxing, and soothing ambiance as you walk up to the main entrance of the park.

Unlike the relaxed fans at most other spring training venues, RedSox fans are intense and as much into the game from the 1st pitch as they would be in Boston. Despite the generally older crowd, it is still tense, yet exciting. The large difference in Ft. Myers is that you don’t have a bunch of drunks yelling “Yankees Suck” for no reason. For the most part there are real baseball fans who follow players and teams and understand how the game should be played. They appreciate what the players can do vs. what they can’t do. My opinion is that a majority of fans attending spring training games are more knowledgeable about baseball, than say a majority of fans who attend the games at Fenway.

Now, I’m not sure if it’s the nice weather, the fact that beer is easy to get or just that people are usually on vacation, but spring training games do not have the life or death feel to it. That you feel at Fenway in April sometimes. Surely people are into the game, and they will cheer or boo when appropriate, but it’s just spring training. People seem to have a better sense of humor, they are more polite, especially the security and ushers, and you never feel like you’ll be mad if they lose or over exuberant if they win. A spring training experience is very even-keeled, even for the players. That manifests itself among the fans and will always create a more positive atmosphere and experience.

Food: For a smaller sized ballpark, there is a good selection of food and beverage choices. You can find most beers available for purchase. You can also find sausage, hot dogs, chicken fingers, grilled chicken sandwiches, french fries, hamburgers and cheeseburgers, cotton candy, cracker jacks, popcorn and of course, Boston’s own, Papa Gino’s pizza. On Friday’s during Lent you can find some sea food selections at a couple of the concession stands.

There are 3 main concession stands. 2 of them have a combined 8 registers. These 2 have mostly soda, hot dog and snacks only. The other stand, The home plate grille, has by far the most selection and the most open registers equaling 6. This is where you can find grilled chicken sandwiches, hamburgers and cheeseburgers, papa gino’s pizza, as well as everything else listed in the previous paragraph. The neat aspect of the home plate grille is that it is operated by retired veterans from the local area. Some of the proceeds go to their respective posts. They are also very polite, friendly and helpful.

You can also find 2 sausage stands behind homeplate and along the third base seating area. These are very popular as each line stretched over 20 feet, and this was in the 3rd inning. They had 2 employees at each stand and they were moving the lines quickly and efficiently.

We all know that in Florida’s warm weather, we need something to cool us off, especially if we don’t like beer. So the Red Sox have 3 ice cream stands set around the concourse. They are manned by 2 employees at each location and like the sausage stands they moved these lines quickly and efficiently. I

There are plenty of beer stands around. I find it interesting that in an area of the country where dehydration could be an issue it is easier to buy a beer than it is to buy water. There were 9 beer stands, plus the men selling it in the stands. There are only 5 places in which I could find a place to buy a bottle of water. Moreover, the bottle of water is only $1 cheaper than the cheapest bottle of beer. There seems to be something wrong with this scenario.

Anyways, on this day the beer stands had a total of 18 employees. That easily doubles the ratio of employees at other stands. Now, maybe Florida requires that this is necessary for alcohol sales, however, there needs to be a new emphasis on more staffing in areas for non-alcohol sales. It shouldn’t take me double the time to purchase a bottle of water vs. the time to buy a bottle of beer. There is also no shortage of beer choices. You can purchase a Heineken, Smirnoff Ice, Sam Adams, Budweiser and Bud Light.

The prices are what a Boston fan would expect, $5.75 to $6.25 for beer. The ice cream is $3.75 to $4.25 for a bowl or cone. Burgers are $5.00 and hot dogs cost $3.75. The Chicken fingers and fries are $7.00. It’s $3.75 to $4.75 for a soda, $3.50 for popcorn and $3.75 for nachos. $4.75 is the price for a bottled water. I recommend that you buy one and then refill at the water bubblers. The water at the bubblers is very cold, the pressure is good and there are many located throughout the park.

One point to keep in mind is that seat vendors are pretty much non-existent other than the beer-man/woman that you will see regularly. Due to this fact, the concession lines are longer. My wife and I strongly recommend that you wait to buy your food until the end of the 2nd inning. Lines are decreased to usually one or 2 people by that point. The only lines that are always long are the ice cream lines.

Seating: Unlike Fenway, the seating at City of Palms is very good. My wife and I were able to sit comfortably in 3 different areas with a baby on our lap. We had plenty of space and didn’t feel like we were interfering on someone else’s. This is also important on the very hot and humid days. Unfortunately, some fans aren’t good with wearing the deodorant.

All the sight lines from almost everywhere in the park are more than adequate. I’ve never left City of Palms with a stiff neck or back. There are no poles to obstruct viewing and no seats in which the person in front of you is blocking your view.

There is a bleacher section in right field as well as grass berm area in right field. I’ve never sat out here, but I’ve heard nothing but good experiences from people who sit out there. I’ve been told to bring a blanket if you do sit out there.

If you have ever been to Florida you know how the sun can kill an otherwise good experience. Fortunately for the fans, a good amount of seats are in the shade by the time the first pitchis thrown. If you want to sit in the sun I recommend the seats along 3rd base, left field and right field. If you want the shade I recommend any 200 level section and most seats along the 1st baseline. No matter what, please bring and wear your sunscreen. I also recommend a light jacket for seats in the 200 level. I’ve experienced some stiff breezes up there and wished I had more than my Red Sox jersey on.

Standing room areas are large and wide. However, they fill up fast. The designated standing room area is everywhere along the blue wall stretching from the right field area all the way to left field. I’ve seen it as much as 3 deep at every inch of the standing room wall. So pick your spot early and don’t leave it.

Another nice aspect about the seating and standing room area is that the wall separating the 100 and 200 level seats is about 7 feet high. Therefore, you never have anyone blocking your view or walking in front of you if you are sitting in the first couple of rows. If you have ever been to Fenway you know what I’m talking about. The only place I’ve visited in which their wall is similar is Camden Yards in Baltimore.

You have a great opportunity to catch a foul ball from any seating area in the park except behind the home plate screen. However, if a ball is hit hard enough it will roll up the screen and down into the seats. We saw it happen 3 times this past year.

Keep in mind 2 things: You are very close to the field and line drives come fast and hard. I have seen many people taken out to the hospital from being hit. Secondly, I have seen more flying bats at City of Palms Park than any other park in the country. I’m not sure if it’s because players are getting used to or trying new bats or if it’s because the space is so small that bats fly into the stands when they normally would hit a wall. Either way it still happens so be aware and ready.

You need to purchase your tickets early. I would recommend buying them as soon as the Red Sox release them to the public. That is generally in January. I also recommend checking the website 3-4 times a week after the initial release date for tickets. This year the Red Sox released seats online about 1 week before we were to arrive. We ended up getting better seats for all of the games we planned on attending.

The ticket prices are a bit high for spring training. The standing room sections are $10 and the most expensive seats are about $40 a piece. The average seat is in the $18 to $25 range. Overall, I think the prices are ok. The seating is good enough to pay a bit extra.

Parking: There is plenty of parking at City of Palms Park. There are 2 large lots on either side of the stadium for only $7 a car. That’s very reasonable compared to other stadiums in Florida. There are also some church and local lots adjacent to the stadium for as little as $5 and as much as $10. I highly recommend those lots as they are usually paved and safe.

There’s an important piece of information that you should be informed about. There are many businesses and homes adjacent to the ballpark. If you attempt to park on their property without authorization you will be towed. This even includes on days with no games.

Amenities: There are 2 men’s rooms and 2 women’s restrooms in the stadium. Each restroom is very spacious and generally clean. The staff there does not maintain the men’s room during the game. Usually by the 5th inning you’ll see overflowing trash barrels and some pretty nasty stalls and urinals. I cannot speak for the women’s rooms. The men’s rooms did not have any infant changing tables that I could see, and I’m not sure about the women’s rooms.

There are plenty of water bubblers to be found. This is important in Florida.

There are 2 handicap ramps at the end of each baseline. They are very accessible and very wide.

There is very little for kids to do except the fast pitch game which can be found along the left field line.

Signing is clear and easy to understand both in the concourse and seating areas. You have to be blind and dumb not to find your seats. The only area that I would label as confusing is down in the left field corner. For some reason the way the seating is set up down there, with rows getting cut off, I could see how that area can be viewed as confusing.

One nice thing I like are the picnic tables located throughout the park. You can find them down each baseline on the concourse level and some up behind the 200 level seats, near the press box. Most of these seats are in the shade and they do maintain these areas throughout the game.

There are also plenty of trash barrels around. Now this is usually something people take for granted, but there’s no doubt that the reason the park is generally clean is due to this. I notice that fans are very vigilant about keeping their areas clean. At least more so than at Fenway Park. I also noticed that every 2-3 innings the barrels were emptied and relined. That was very impressive. If the could do that in the bathrooms, then they would be much cleaner.

There are 2 main areas where you can find and purchase Red Sox merchandise. One is located on the concourse down the 3rd base line. This is the larger of the 2 locations. This store carries everything a Red Sox fan would want. The other is located on the concourse behind homeplate. This location carries a smaller sample of items compared to the larger store, however you will find all of the most popular items there. There are also some free standing locations where you will find a very limited number of items such as baseballs, programs, photos, etc….

There is one note about the stores that are important to make. They are extremely small, given the amount of people who buy Red Sox merchandise. However, compared to other spring training facilities, the Red Sox have one of the largest shops in Florida. I’ve been to other stadiums in which your shopping will take place at a concession stand counter only.

I highly recommend that you shop 2-3 hours before game time, or on an off day. In 5 years I have never seen the store with less than 40 people in it at any given time during the game.

The Red Sox also offer a cool program for those that are deemed not in proper condition to drive home. They want everyone to be safe so they will arrange for cab service to get you to your destination safely. There are signs posted all over the ballpark describing how to use this service.

Security/Staff/Gates: The gates open 2 ? hours before game time. People line up at 9:00am or earlier for some games.

You may bring in bags as long as they meet the MLB requirements. Your bag will be inspected and tagged at the gate, so be prepared.

You cannot bring in any food or beverages to the stadium unless you have a small child or infant with you.

The staff and security are very friendly and helpful. They work with fans to make everyone’s experience fun and enjoyable. I can easily say that a fan is treated much better at City of Palms vs. Fenway Park. I’m not sure why, because it’s the same management group, but the attitude is much more fan friendly. Even the cops working at the ballpark are friendly. All the staff, security and cops help create a more relaxed and friendly atmosphere at City of Palms park.

Autographs: In the past couple of years autographs have been extremely hard to come by, especially from the Red Sox. The 1st 3 years we visited were awesome. We were able to have contact with and an autograph from at least 15-20 members of the Red Sox, guaranteed. The past 2 years combined we acquired a total of 11.

Here are my tips for collecting Red Sox autographs.

Go to the parking lot as early as 7:00am. The lot is located behind left field and is easily accessible. My wife and I have had great luck in the morning. I’ve met and acquired autographs from Johnny Damon, Doug Mirabelli, Mark Bellhorn, Kevin Millar, Mike Timlin, Johnny Pesky, etc… among many others in the morning. At the parking lot I’ve acquired about ? at the entrance and ? on the side by the bullpen area.

The Red Sox dugout is located on the 3rd base line. People will have the whole line filled in within 20 minutes of the gate opening. It will be 3-4 deep within the 1st hour of the gates opening. With the RedSox I do 3 things over the course of the week. 1 game I’ll find a spot along the base line in left field. I won’t move from there until I’m asked by the ushers. (They will let you stay there until the National Anthem is sung.) This plan has allowed for me to get Kevin Millar, Manny Ramirez, Bronson Arroyo, Nomar Garciaparra and many others. The 2nd game I’ll go down to one side of the dugout and camp out there. I’ve been able to get the managers, Todd Walker, Kevin Youkilis, Ramiro Mendoza among others there. For the 3rd game I’ll rove around between both locations. I don’t have as much luck with this, but I have gotten Derek Lowe, Mike Timlin, John Henry, Manny Ramirez, Bill Mueller among others using this method. Again, this hasn’t been as effective recently because the crowds are just too big to move around safely and quickly.

After the game I recommend heading over to the Red Sox parking lot again. I suggest either the exit or along the fence by the bullpen. Either way, Karen and I have met many Red Sox out there. Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield, Mark Bellhorn, Trot Nixon and scores of others have accommodated all of the fans with pictures and autographs over the past couple of years.

If you want an autograph from a member of the visiting team, I recommend the visitor dugout area. Although I’ve seen some players sign by the home plate side of the dugout it’s usually too crowded for more than 5 people there. So I recommend moving down toward the 1st base side. This has worked very well for me as I’ve acquired autographs from Albert Pujols, Jim Leyland, Carlos Pena, Brandon Inge and many more down there. I find that players like to sign there because it’s generally less crowded. I also recommend that anywhere on the berm area in right field. I’ve seen many players sign there before a game. The only problem with the berm area is that you now need a ticket to get into the section.

During the game players might sign an autograph after they come out of the game. They might stretch and run in the outfield and then sign for people before they leave the field. We’ve acquired autographs from Chipper Jones, Manny Ramirez, Shea Hillenbrand, and many more this way.

However, the best place to acquire a visiting player’s autograph is outside their locker room on the 1st base concourse. The security team will put up a barrier, but you will still have access to the players. I have acquired over 75 autographs from this location after a game has ended. I’ve been able to get people such as Bob Boone, Rick Dempsey, Brett Myers, David Bell, Chipper Jones, Wes Helms, Brian Roberts and as I mentioned before, many, many more.

Player Development Fields: About 3 miles down Edison Avenue you will find the Red Sox player development facility. I make it a point to visit this area at least once each year. You will find and meet almost all of the players in the Red Sox minor league systems. You find single A players up to AAA players and everyone in between. Acquiring an autograph from any player here is fairly easy, as long as you catch them coming off of the field after a practice or scrimmage. I’ve met and spoke to many of their top prospects such as Abe Alvarez, Kevin Youkilis, David Murphy, and Hanley Ramirez.

The other neat aspect of this area is that you’ll see many well known Red Sox alumni coaching and counseling players on their respective practice fields. It is a pretty regular occurrence to meet alumni such as Al Nipper, Tommy Harper, Frank Malzone, Luis Tiant, Dwight Evans and Carl Yastrzemski at this location. They are usually very accommodating with fans as soon as they are done coaching. I always think it’s neat to see the bridge the Red Sox organization try to create between their history (alumni coaches) and their prospects. I’ve been to other minor league facilities and you’ll be hard pressed to find other team’s alumni in uniform and on the field coaching prospects for 2-3 hours. (Paul Stanish)

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