Spending the day in Champion Stadium at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. Atlanta Braves position players were reporting for Spring Training 2013. Soon, the NBA will be in “The Bubble,” (somewhere near this field) to resume the 2019-20 basketball season. We shall see. And, so we shall see about the MLB season. There was no admission to see the players report to camp. But, I managed to have access. I will leave names out to protect the innocent. As of last year, the Atlanta Braves no longer train here. They did so from 1997 to 2019.
The team now trains at CoolToday Park (Sarasota, Florida). Technically, it opened for the last spring training game of 2019. But, 2020 was to be the inaugural year. Atlanta Braves partnered with Sarasota County in a $140 million venture. They signed a 30 year lease to develop the organization in the 6200 seat capacity complex, bells and whistles included. In a related story, the Florida Fire Frogs (Atlanta Braves Advanced-A Affiliate), were also expected to move from Osceola County Stadium (Kissimmee, Florida) to CoolToday Park starting Summer of 2020. Regardless of any pandemic, labor, or minor league issues, MLB will no longer play in Central Florida. The nearest facility is now Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium (Lakeland, Florida) where the Detroit Tigers have had spring training since 1934. Its a bit of a stretch. But, I guess you can say the Tampa Rays are part of Central Florida. Its ironic that, with the exception of rain, an environment ideal for baseball is not necessarily a viable business model.
Through out the year, there are multi-sport tournaments or events at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. On this day, there was also a girls soccer tournament nearby. Most of the foot traffic was attributed to that. Here at camp, everything started with stretching-calisthenics. You never want to get hurt. But, that’s especially true when players are trying to hold a job. The trainer had a small meeting to tell players how to hold on to the stretch-out straps because they will “slip, snap back, and take an eye out,” good to know. “That’s all I got,” he said. The training went on to some running and more stretching, defensive drills, then breaking up into smaller groups. Watching the team lining up for calisthenics is the same as a high school team would do. At every level, its still the same universal game. Grown men playing a little boy’s game, as they say.
Among the coaching staff were some familiar faces from baseball in the 1990’s. Third Base Legend Terry Pendleton is a permanent fixture in the organization. Coach Doug Dascenzo (former Chicago Cubs player) worked with the outfielders, hitting fungos. Ron Gant patrolled left field for the Atlanta Braves. But, on this day, he was getting an interview in for his broadcasting job. At the start of the 2013 regular season, Atlanta Braves were projected to have the best outfield in MLB, Justin Upton in left field, his brother B.J. Upton in center field, and Jason Heyward in right field.
The Upton brothers were newly acquired. Chances of two brothers playing together on the same MLB team are slim. Some 20-pairs of brothers have done so. There was some sort of side-game competition with missed or overthrown balls while the new Braves brothers played catch. B.J. was disputing a point that Justin was scoring and Jason Heyward was holding the jury while both sides pleaded their case. The point counted. Was it sibling rivalry or just a competitive drive? I’m guessing all of the above.