Braves fans frustrated with spring training setup

When the Atlanta Braves had their team marketing photoshoots near the bullpen on Thursday at CoolToday Park, fans seated by the dugout tried to snap photos from across the outfield.

It was the closest the fans said they had been to a player all week at the Braves' new spring training home in North Port, Fla. 

Dozens of fans were waiting by the park's main gate shortly before 9 a.m., when the park opens to the public. Some made the eight-hour drive from the Atlanta metro area with their families and said they hoped to catch their first glimpse of a player.

"It’s so frustrating," said Carla Gaddy, who made the drive from Newnan, Ga., with her son, daughter and husband. "We’ve got two kids that are huge Braves fans, and they’ve totally limited access to us. They’re just letting us on the main fields, and all the players are on the back fields. So we can’t even get back there. They won’t even let us look over the walls to see the players."

"So we’re going to head out today," Joey said. "When we leave here, going to go to Disney to try to salvage the trip. We’re still Braves fans, just disappointed."

Since the full squad reported earlier this week, the Braves have used their back fields at the new North Port facility. The team said it uses these fields due to the larger number of people and specific drills for full-squad workouts, and that "due to the way this complex was built it would be difficult to allow fans to the Major League back fields from a security standpoint."

In addition to the minor league fields being free to fans starting March 1, the Braves are trying a new setup on Friday for fans to watch the action on fields six and seven, the furthest two practice diamonds from the ballpark.

"Once fans enter the parking lot they will travel to the green lot (the grass overflow parking) and enter at the green gate (marked by a green flag)" in this new Friday setup for fans.

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Fans told FOX 5 that every day since the full squad reported, they enter the stadium and wait for a few hours by the dugout, only to be eventually told that nobody will be practicing in the ballpark today. 

Fans told FOX 5 that every day since the full squad reported, they enter the stadium and wait for a few hours by the dugout, only to be eventually told that nobody will be practicing in the ballpark today. 

Jimmie Boulware, who makes the pilgrimage to spring training every year from Hiram, Ga., said he reserved his hotel in Florida six month ahead of time. The longtime season-ticket holder was looking forward to the Braves having their own spring training facility this year rather than renting space at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort for Spring Training.

"I thought Disney was bad. Disney was heaven compared to here. That’s the truth," Boulware said. "But then you go to other places (in Florida) and you’re like, ‘Oh wow, this is how spring training is supposed to be.’ I mean, it’s organized, there’s people there, everybody’s friendly, you see tons of representatives from the team, and they’re like, ‘What can I do for you?’ It makes you want to be a fan of somebody else."

In fact, Boulware said he and some other fans went to the Minnesota Twins' camp in Ft. Myers and saw former Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson. They also went across town to Port Charlotte and saw Rays spring training when they left Braves spring training so disappointed.

And the lack of fans is definitely something that Woodstock native and the Braves' No. 2 prospect Drew Waters said he's noticed.

"I feel like that’s one thing about Disney, is we allowed fans to get up close and personal, whereas this year, we don’t really see fans unless we’re out on the stadium field," Waters said. "I think it’s a fine line of having our own personal space when we’re doing our job and trying to get better and get ready for the 2020 season. But then again, without the fans, the game of baseball is not near as fun, so I do miss having those fans there and being able to interact with them, but at the same time it’s nice."

Meanwhile, some other Braves prefer the quiet to really focus on training.

"I’ll take this every day over Disney, kind of being secluded and on our own," said pitcher Sean Newcomb. "The focus is kind of all on baseball. There’s nothing else really going on, and the facility is really nice, so that’s a plus."