WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (By Dale King) – The crack of cowhide-covered balls hitting wood bats, the thunk of speeding spheres smacking leather mitts and the cry of “Play Ball” are heralding the resurgence of Major League Baseball in central Palm Beach County, and the Houston Astros have a piece of that action.
The team from Texas marks its 65th year of spring training in Florida by moving to a built-from-scratch complex of a dozen practice fields, parking areas, green space, utility buildings and concession stands created on a former landfill sandwiched between Haverhill Road and Military Trail in the north end of West Palm Beach. Traffic to the game comes off I-95 at the 45th Street exit.
From 1985 to 2016, the Astros held spring training at the Osceola County Stadium complex in Kissimmee. Before that, they were in Cocoa for 21 years.
The Astros and the Washington Nationals from our nation’s capital, share this sportsplex surrounded by housing developments, strip malls, a few health care centers and Palm Beach Lakes Community High School. The teams share the big stadium, so “home” games are held on differing dates.
One of the Astros’ practice fields matches the dimensions of its home stadium, Minute Maid Park in Houston – 315 feet in left, 408 in center and 326 down the right field line.
The ballpark has 6,500 seats and an outfield lawn. Regular tickets are $42 for home plate box, $37 for field box, $31 for dugout box, $28 for infield box, $23 for outfield reserve and $15 for the lawn. Prime and marquee tickets cost more.
The concourse offers a 360-degree view of the field. In the upper seating areas are suites and party areas. The Left Field Bar has 32 beer taps.
Builders are quickly working to have the stadium completed by Feb. 28, when the Astros and Nationals play their first home game against each other at the facility known as the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. The Grapefruit League season began Saturday, Feb. 25, but both teams have been on the road until the stadium’s maiden voyage on Tuesday.
Fans got their first look inside the multiplex last weekend, but fences and security guards kept them away from the stadium that is still under construction. Visitors, many wearing orange Astros garb and red shirts for the Nationals, arrived early enough to get autographs from players during practice sessions that began at 8 a.m. By noon, as temperatures tickled the 80 degree mark, players grabbed their gear and headed inside.
The paved parking lot off Haverhill filled to capacity quickly on both days, and security guards diverted traffic to a grass-covered lot off Military Trail, adjacent to the Washington fields. Lot attendants advised motorists to park away from the practice areas where, occasionally, baseballs would fly over the fence.
A curving, cement walkway leads from one side of the complex to the other. On the Houston side, fans caught a glimpse of players in the large batting cage next to the office building where a giant “H” logo has been drawn on the ground. Along the front wall of the stadium is a logo and the phrase, “Spring training home of the Houston Astros.”
All the fields are well manicured and green, but surrounding landscape is bleak and grass is brown and patchy. A lake between the Astros stadium and the parking lot contains little water, but already a sign warns that alligators may be present.
The complex is mainly a forest of chain link fences and fence poles. Curious folks can see the lights towering above the stadium, but only the back of the scoreboard is visible. Security people in yellow vests were present in large numbers last weekend, mingling with concessionaires selling water and potato chips.
A man handing out schedules was asked what would be done with the complex during off-season. He speculated that high schools would get a shot at playing there, and other events would be scheduled. Coincidentally, a press release came out this past week saying that one of the largest high school baseball tournaments in Palm Beach County will be held at the park this summer. Two hundred travel teams from around the US, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas will be in town June 9-14 for the Palm Beach Classic. That translates to more than 3,000 athletes.
The big show opens for the Astros on Tuesday with an afternoon game at 1:00. Anticipation runs high for the Astros this year, with a great group of returning veterans and the addition of slugger Carlos Beltran. In his previous one-year stint with the Astros, in 2004, Beltran went white-hot in the playoffs, hitting .435 with eight homers.
But this spring has extra added excitement – a new stadium.
June 26, 2017 Realty News Report Copyright 2017