September 22, 2023
Grapefruit Dreams
Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers, one of baseball's highest-paid pros, plays spring ball at JetBlue Park.

Photo: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Grapefruit Dreams
Hurricane Ian damaged Charlotte Sports Park and the Rays had to play spring training games elsewhere this year.

Photo: Ivy Ceballo/Tampa Bay Times

Around the State

Grapefruit Dreams

Art Levy | 3/15/2023

In baseball, spring training is the most optimistic time of the year, when even the unlikely seems likely. It’s when bad teams think they’re good, and good teams think they’re great. It’s when fans, warmed by the Florida sun and drowsed by $8 beers, dream that this could be the year their team finally wins a championship.

Fifteen of the 30 Major League Baseball teams train in Florida, including both Florida teams — the Miami Marlins in Jupiter and the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte — and both of 2022’s World Series teams: The champion Houston Astros in West Palm Beach and the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater.

In 2019, the year before the pandemic took hold, 1.5 million people, more than half of them from out of state, attended Grapefruit League games, resulting in an overall economic impact of about $687 million, according to the Florida Sports Foundation.

The other 15 teams train in Arizona’s Cactus League, where the 1.8 million people who attended games there in 2019 generated an economic impact of $644 million, according to Front Office Sports, a sports business firm.

Even during the pandemic, when numerous games were canceled and many baseball fans stayed home, spring training in Florida still generated an economic impact of about $680 million between the 2020 and 2021 spring seasons, according to the Florida Sports Foundation.

Attendance for the 2023 Grapefruit League is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Getting Paid

The latest crop of wildly rich baseball players will be on display this spring around the Grapefruit League. Some examples of last off-season’s biggest signings and where they train:

  • Aaron Judge, outfielder, 9 years, $360 million, New York Yankees, Steinbrenner Field, Tampa
  • Rafael Devers, third baseman, 11 years, $331 million, Boston Red Sox, JetBlue Park, Fort Myers
  • Trea Turner, shortstop, 11 years, $300 million, Philadelphia Phillies, BayCare Ballpark, Clearwater

Ian’s Impact

Hurricane Ian damaged the 5,000-seat Charlotte Sports Park enough that repairs couldn’t be made in time for the Rays to play spring training games there this year. The Rays trained last month at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando and are playing spring games this month at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. The other teams that train close to where Ian hit — the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers and the Atlanta Braves in North Port — reported only minor damage to their spring facilities. The Rays expect to be back in Port Charlotte next year.

Tags: Around Florida, Travel & Tourism

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