I was on-hand for the March 28th game between the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Here are a few thoughts:
After ten years at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, the Nats finally got the new spring training stadium they’ve been looking for this past spring with The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
The stadium, which the Nationals share with the Astros, is miles above and beyond Space Coast, not only in terms of amenities for fans (good food options, a berm for fans to stretch out on during the game, a scoreboard that’s a scale-model replica of what the Nats have in D.C., and premium seating options), but also in terms of location — the new facility is only 29 minutes away from the Nats’ closest opponents in Jupiter (the Mets and Cardinals), compared to the 59 minutes it took the Nats to get from Viera to Kissimmee, where the Astros are located, formerly their shortest trip.
Compared to Space Coast Stadium, The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and its facilities feel much more like a stadium built for a team that will be around for a long time, unlike Space Coast, which felt like, at best, a temporary solution.
Admittedly, Space Coast, which opened in 1994, was never exactly thought of as a permanent solution for the Nats.
The Nats inherited it from the Montreal Expos, who inherited it from the Miami (then Florida) Marlins, who built the stadium on a budget, for only $6.2 million dollars—only $400,000 dollars more than Anthony Rendon is being paid this year.
The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, in comparison, cost $148.6 million dollars, $58 million dollars more than what Max Scherzer, Jayson Werth, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, and Bryce Harper are all being paid, combined.
Even so, the new stadium has a few negatives, which a Marlins fan reminded me of when he complained of the limited access between fans and players at the Nats’ stadium, something he wasn’t used to, having often visited Roger Dean Stadium, where the Fish spend their Springs, and other Spring Training ballparks, where the mood was informal and the players were happy to sign autographs and talk to fans.
The premium seating next to the home dugout on the first base line, blocked off to anyone that didn’t have tickets for those seats, and netted off from the field, occupies the space where older spring training ballparks typically allow fans to stand by and attempt to get autographs from players during batting practice and before the game.
With that space blocked off at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, there are significantly fewer chances for fans to get closer to the field before the game (the only place I saw players signing was in one small section in the right field corner).
Granted, the new facility isn’t really about the fan experience, as important as it is to us. The new, expansive, yet close-in complex features practice field upon practice field, all of which are just a few minutes away—walking—from the actual ballpark, a marked difference from Viera, where the practice fields were considerably further (sometimes requiring golf carts to traverse the distance) from the stadium.
Despite the ‘shared facility’ moniker, it certainly doesn’t feel like one -- the Nats have plentiful room just for their guys, and it took my Dad (who also attended the game) and I at least twenty minutes walking around to even see the Astros’ side of the complex.
Even better for the players are the actual facilities themselves, which have (per Thomas Boswell): “[T]wo fields that duplicate Nationals Park, right down to the quirks and corners in the outfield walls,” as well as “one fenced spot (where) you can have 20 pitchers throw side-by-side simultaneously off 20 mounds,” in addition to a weight room that “... is bigger than the entire Nats locker room at dilapidated RFK Stadium when the team came to D.C. in 2005.”
If you’re planning on going down to West Palm for a game next year, and don’t plan on getting there super early, forget about the autographs and your foul ball collection, which can wait until you get back to D.C. or next time you see the Nationals play.
However, if you are determined to snag some souvenirs, don’t be deterred by the limitations of the stadium; instead, get to the facility decently early (as in an hour or more before the gates open), and hang out around the practice fields, where players hang out long before the game begins.
There’s plenty of access to talk to players and procure autographs and souvenirs beyond the short chain link fences separating the player pathways to and from the clubhouse from the fans.
Forgetting the player/fan interaction side of things, a great (slightly underrated) part of the stadium is the expansive berm that lies directly beyond the outfield fences.
It provides a clear view onto the field, the only minor issue being that you can’t see the scoreboard in right field unless you twist yourself around (something not too problematic given that there’s no live video feed displaying replays like there is at Nationals Park). Other than that, the berm is a cheap ticket ($15-20 officially, significantly less on StubHub and other resale services) that lets you lie down while watching the game (and gives you a good look into the Nats’ bullpen, which is always exciting in the spring, as well as a chance to catch a home run every now and then).
If you’re planning on going, my suggestion would be to buy a cheap berm ticket. If you really can’t stand being so far away, you can probably move over to a section closer to the action after an inning or two, seeing as the ushers are pretty relaxed about who enters and exits the non-premium seating (especially if you don’t go directly behind home plate when you clearly aren’t sitting there).
The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is a nice stadium. Similar to Nationals Park, there’s nothing incredibly exceptional about it, but there’s not a bad seat in the house, a good looking scoreboard, and nice amenities, including a really, really big Curly W -- so if you have the chance, definitely go to a game. It’s cheaper than seeing the Nats play in D.C., and even if the games are meaningless, you can at least do some prospect scouting.