NORTH PORT, Fla. - A month out from the first spring training the Atlanta Braves will have in their new North Port home, it was still quiet enough to enjoy the Florida breeze gently blowing the palm trees planted throughout the 90-acre facility.
CoolToday Park has been open for almost a year, and the Braves actually played their final spring training game against the Tampa Bay Rays here on March 24, 2019, winning 4-2. It was a win for the organization as a whole, too, as the new ballpark had an opportunity for a soft opening and trial run before their full-time tenure begins when pitchers and catchers report Feb. 12.
Unlike the Braves' previous tenant, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort for Spring Training, CoolToday Park is clearly-marked "Braves Country," as Braves VP of Florida Operations Mike Dunn says.
There are figurines of the Braves' retired numbers bordering the palm-tree-lined wide lawn out front, and then as fans ascend steps to the main concourse, larger-than-life action shots of those Braves legends welcome all visitors.
The park is detail-oriented in an expertly-crafted way, even down to the quotes from Hank Aaron and other giants, found throughout the concourse. But Dunn says being able to brand the park as their own was icing on the cake, given how this park will ease logistics for the Braves during spring training as well.
"Our tenure in Disney and Central Florida was a great one, but the teams started to vacate Central Florida," Dunn says. "So our competition wasnt local. Teams are either on the east coast or the west coast of Florida. For spring training, the team needs to stay off the bus as much as possible, and this was a very vibrant commity, a very willing community to have spring training baseball. So it was kind of a match made in heaven."
And North Port does appear to have embraced its newest neighbor. When FOX 5 was touring the new facility, the park's Tomahawk Tiki Bar was full of local residents and visitors. Dunn says it was important to them to open the facility to the public to look around before they have to buy a ticket to do so; however, the Braves expect to have "a mix both of locals and out-of-state guests" during spring training.
"It's a unique opportunity to come and get great food, have a unique setting in a Major League spring training facility, talk baseball, watch baseball on the TV's or on the big video board in the park, or just congregrate with friends. We say that this is the best sunset in any baseball stadium. Because we're elevated, you're able to see this vast, beautiful southern Florida sunset throughout these palm trees."
And you can't look anywhere around CoolToday Park without noticing at least a few of the 400 palm trees planted across the 90-acre facility. The Braves are also selling new spring training merchandise that proudly includes palm trees, flamingos and umbrellas in their logos.
"It's our Florida element. You've got to have palm trees in Florida," Dunn says. "It's part of our Florida branding of the Atlanta Braves."
Spring training kicks off Feb. 12 as pitchers and catchers report to North Port for the first time. Position players will report on Feb. 17. Atlanta will open the 33-game spring training slate on Feb. 22 at CoolToday Park against the Orioles.