Tip: when flying east across the country at night, if you think the three hours gained won't bother you because you'll sleep on the plane, wake up while landing and wham-o, time change taken care of, you are wrong.
I speak from experience, the experience of trying that foolishness on a trip to Europe and now that I live out west, the experience of trying it again on my way to Florida for Spring Training last weekend. Didn't work and didn't work. The end result of both attempts was falling asleep at inopportune times. The first trip an unplanned nap ensued in London's oldest pub, and on this most recent excursion, the baseball-type action at Friday's Rays/Orioles tilt wasn't enough to keep me sentient.
The plan was to fly from Portland, OR to Tampa, FL, get picked up at the airport, have breakfast, and drive to Port Charlotte for the first of four games in our three days in Florida. After viewing the Rays and Orioles renew hostilities, we'd drive the Fort Myers for the Red Sox and Pirates game that evening and then return to our home base in Clearwater for the night. The plan necessitated staying awake for most of the day or sleeping in uncomfortable places, like a stadium seat or the overly hard rear seat of a new Volkswagon. After falling asleep in my seat in Port Charlotte, and having to get up and do laps around the park to stay awake, then falling asleep again when I tried to sit down for the eighth and ninth innings, passing out in the back seat of our rented Passat while my two friend chauffeured me down I-75 was predictable.
When I came to, it was to the shouts of my friends/chauffeurs who wanted me to catch a glimpse of the new JetBlue Park as it came into view. I popped up out of the back seat, ignoring the searing pain that had built in my side over the past 40 minutes thanks to a the Passat's inexplicable lump of a middle seat, to see the Red Sox new spring training park. I was able to snap this picture.
The astute reader will notice the above photograph is, in fact, not of the Red Sox new spring training facility. Instead, it's more of a warning about how getting 40 minutes of non-restful sleep in a 36 hour period will destroy one's sense of the proper way to operate a camera.
Before visiting I had read a good number of things about JetBlue Park. It
- looked like Fenway.
- wasn't Fenway.
- was nice.
- wasn't not nice.
In my experience each of those is true. JetBlue Park is half Fenway, half Florida spring training park, half architectural show-piece, and half well, something else I’m sure.
The first thing you notice about JetBlue Park is its roof. The roof zigs up and down, protecting patrons from the harsh Florida sun in a stylish and, to my eye at least, modernist manner. It was jarring at first, but it wasn't hard to get past that.
Walking up to the park you’ll notice the little touches, like sand in the cement blocks, but you’ll notice the concessions most of all. Because they are ubiquitous. Like Fenway on game day, JetBlue Park has a quarter of the surrounding road roped off and coated with purchasing opportunities. One could (and maybe did) buy pizza, sausages, beer, soda, doughnuts, ice cream, and pretzels and that’s only from one tent. In any case it’s nice to get out of the sun for a few minutes, even if it is to browse crappy stadium food.
When entering the park you’ll be struck by two things: 1) the field is just like Fenway. I mean exactly. Oh, sure, there are a few small differences (the Green Monster is 40 feet tall here, three feet taller than the Monster in Boston), but the overall look and feel of the place is uncanny. It’s beautiful, but I won’t lie, it’s strange too. So you’ve got an almost exact replica of Fenway’s field including fences, Monsters, scoreboards, etc. with a white steal sandstone structure sitting on it. The overall effect is of the top to a new Florida spring training ballpark gently placed on top of Fenway's field. While that makes it sound odd, the overall park really isn’t.
When I heard the plans for the place I was disappointed. For one, I really enjoyed attending games at City of Palms Park, but mostly because I like spring training ballparks and didn’t want to see the Red Sox try to copy an icon, like remaking Gone With The Wind starring Matthew Perry. The Yankees had done that and succeeding in creating easily the worst fan experience in Spring Training, a cold impersonal aping of Yankee Stadium with very little nod to its Florida location or the closeness fans attending Spring games expect.
But the Red Sox didn’t fall victim to that. If you’re familiar with Fenway it might be jarring for a few minutes before your eyes adjust to the sun beating down, but JetBlue Park is it’s own place. And that’s good. The park, while like Fenway in many ways, would never be mistaken for being located anywhere but Florida. While the palm trees waiving in the breeze are a nice touch, the structure surrounding the park sings JetBlue Park and Florida to me.
Not wanting to kill all our weekend funds in one sitting, I opted for the berm seating. For those who haven’t attended spring training, the berm is a lawn in the outfield, usually sloped towards the fan-side of the center field wall. There are no seats so space, such that it is, is cheap. In this case I paid $5 per ticket, when putting my butt in an actual seat would cost $20 or more. There we sat for about five minutes before realizing there were bleachers behind us. Yippee.
From the berm the field seemed far away, but just up about 15 feet on the bleacher seats, the sight-lines improved radically. We watched the game from that vantage for the first four innings before leaving to walk around the park. The park has a nice open concourse that lets the elements in, something that anyone traveling from Portland (or Boston) to Florida in March can appreciate. However, if you wanted to see the game while walking, the walkway around the bowl provides an excellent view. It’s just like Fenway, but slightly wider.
For the fifth game at the new facility, things went off pretty well. However, we did see a few things that needed a slight bit of the old improvement. A drain pipe in the upper deck was spilling water out over the stairs and onto people below could have easily been redirected, for instance. The grounds crew had some serious issues with the organization and movement of the tarp. But those things will be fixed and didn't detract from our experience.
The parking situation is a nightmare. When we were parking, all the cars were herded through the same single point to pay before driving almost 270 degrees around the parking lot at the behest of about 400 different neon orange baton waivers. This system must be improved. Getting out proved to be far easier than entering, though the rain delay likely played a role in staggering the traffic leaving the game.
Tickets and concessions are expensive. Yes, it’s spring training and the games don’t count, but don’t come down to Fort Myers thinking you’re going to find a huge discount. You won’t. But the point is that JetBlue Park is a great place to watch a game. The field is gorgeous, the park sparkles with personality, and the Red Sox play there. What else could you possibly want?