When the defending Champion 2019 Boston Red Sox report to Fort Myers, Florida, for spring training, state of the art facilities, a battery of instructors, and a full staff of physical training specialists awaited them. JetBlue Park at Fenway South includes Major and Minor League operations, training and rehabilitative facilities, and six practice fields. Every effort is made to insure that the players have access to the best training facilities in MLB.
When Johnny Pesky reflected on his first spring training camp in a 2010 interview, he said, “The best way to describe the clubhouse in Sarasota in 1942 was an old barn with some lockers in it. Our manager, Joe Cronin, was a playing manager, so he had to spend time getting himself in shape. And we only had one diamond with a lumpy infield surface and a terrible hitting background.
“But I’ll tell you one thing. We were awfully happy to be in Florida at a major league spring training camp.”
This is the Red Sox 25th spring training camp in Fort Myers. Over the years, the team has trained in nineteen locations in eleven different states.
RED SOX SPRING TRAINING SITES
|1901||Charlottesville, VA||1928-29||Bradenton, FL|
|1902||Augusta, GA||1930-1931||Pensacola, FL|
|1903-1906||Macon, GA||1932||Savannah, GA|
|1907-1908||Little Rock, AR||1933-1942||Sarasota, FL|
|1909-1910||Hot Springs AR||1943*||Medford, MA|
|1911||Redondo Beach, CA||1944*||Baltimore, MD|
|1912-1918||Hot Springs, AR||1945*||Pleasantville, NJ|
|1919||Tampa, FL||1946-1958||Sarasota, FL|
|1920-23||Hot Springs, AR||1959-1965||Scottsdale, AZ|
|1924||San Antonio, TX||1966-1992||Winter Haven, FL|
|1925-1927||New Orleans, LA||1993-2019||Fort Myers, FL|
* War Years
THE EARLY YEARS
Professional baseball teams have been heading to warmer climates for preseason training for over 130 years. The earliest teams were located in the north and the trek south dates back to the beginning of baseball. The New York Mutuals trained in New Orleans, Louisiana, prior to their 1869 season.
The early emphasis of spring training was on getting the players back in shape. The 1886 Chicago White Sox trained in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where they took twenty-mile hikes daily. The 2019 Red Sox have no long distance hikes planned for this year’s camp.
The Boston Red Sox, or “Boston Americans” as they were known at the time, were formed in 1901 as charter members of the new American League. The team was established to compete with the Boston Nationals who had been the Boston’s National League entry since 1876.
The new team assembled for the first time at historic South Station in March 1901, boarding a train headed to Charlottesville, Virginia, for spring training. The first recorded score for the Boston Americans was a 13-0 victory over the University of Virginia.
During the next five seasons the team selected the state of Georgia for its preseason training. After completing their successful first season, the Americans selected Augusta, Georgia, for their 1902-preseason headquarters. The following season, the team shifted their training camp to Macon, Georgia. The 1903 Boston Americans won the first World Series ever played and they elected to remain in Macon for spring training through 1906.
In 1907, the Americans made a major switch, moving preseason training to Little Rock, Arkansas, where they remained for two preseasons. Prior to the 1908 training camp, the team was re-christened as the “Red Sox.”
Spring training was a low-budget operation in the early years. Following the 1908 camp, the team elected to pay their expenses by leaving behind a spare outfielder to play for the Little Rock minor league team that season. Fortunately the team retained an option for the player’s future services, because that spare outfielder was Tris Speaker. Speaker went on to star for the Red Sox from 1909 to 1915 and later earned Hall of Fame selection based on his outstanding twenty-two year major league career.
ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-SEVEN DEGRESS FAHRENHEIT
In 1909, preseason training was shifted to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Hot Springs is the site of underground thermal springs with temperatures that remain at a constant 147 degrees. The oldest park in the national park system, Hot Springs was the spring training headquarters for a number of major league teams.
The team remained in Hot Springs for two years, and then shifted to Redondo Beach, California, for spring training in 1911. Redondo Beach was near the winter home of team owner John I. Taylor. This was the only spring that the Red Sox trained in California.
The Red Sox returned to Hot Springs, Arkansas, prior to their next season and the team won its’ second World Series in October, 1912. The team remained in Hot Springs through the 1918 preseason. During their seven years in Hot Springs the Red Sox won four World Championships. Apparently the powers of the springs were quite formidable.
Following their 1918 World Championship, the team pitched camp in Florida for the first time. The Red Sox were enticed to Tampa, Florida, by John McGraw of the New York Giants, who recognized that emerging star Babe Ruth would draw fans to the exhibition games. The Babe did not disappoint. He hit one home run well over 500 feet and a plaque was placed near the spot where the ball landed and it remains in place today.
In 1919, the Boston Red Sox finished a disappointing sixth in the American League. The team elected to return to Hot Springs, hoping that the elixir of the thermal springs would return them to their glory. Unfortunately the magic had vanished and so had The Babe. The team finished no better than fifth place following their next four spring training camps in Hot Springs.
Thinking that a total change of scene might change their fortunes, the team spent their only spring training in Texas prior to the 1924 season. A seventh place finish was the best the team could muster after training near the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. The team headed to New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1925.
These were the “not-so-roaring ‘20s” for the Boston Red Sox. In a March 12, 1925, dispatch to The Sporting News, correspondent Burt Whitman noted the team was, “tickled to death with their infield situation.” But his more prescient observation was, “One of the easiest things for the baseball man to do is to get optimistic in the spring of the year.” The 1925 Red Sox finished ninth, 49.5 games behind the American League pennant-winning Washington Senators.
Despite two more preseasons in “The Big Easy” things just got tougher for the team in 1926 and 1927. They finished dead last both years. In 1928 the Red Sox returned to Florida, to Bradenton on the Gulf Coast.
By 1928, Florida had become the location of choice for major league spring training. Ten of the sixteen big league teams trained in Florida in 1928, and the “Grapefruit League” was in full bloom.
Al Lang, a transplanted northerner and baseball die-hard is acknowledged as the driving force in luring teams to the Sunshine State. After several false starts he convinced the St. Louis Browns to train in St. Petersburg in 1914. Recognizing the value of the Florida byline on the sportswriters’ reports to their northern papers, other Florida cities aggressively recruited major league teams. The Florida land boom of the 1920s did the rest.
Two seasons in Bradenton produced two more last place finishes, and the Red Sox moved to Pensacola, Florida, for spring training in 1930 and 1931. The team finished eighth and sixth respectively, and moved their spring training headquarters to Savannah, Georgia, prior to the 1932 season. The regular season was probably the low point for the franchise. The team finished in last place, 64 games behind the New York Yankees. The total attendance at Fenway Park in 1932 was 268,715 fans.
Finances had become so difficult for Red Sox owner Bob Quinn that he had to borrow against his life insurance policy to fund the team’s spring training expenses at their new location in Sarasota, Florida. But just prior to the 1933 season a knight in shining armor arrived to rescue the franchise. In February of 1933, Thomas Austin Yawkey agreed to buy the Boston Red Sox from Quinn and the “Yawkey Era” began.
In 1933, Sarasota, Florida, was a sleepy little village of about 2,500 citizens. Sarasota is located on the Gulf Coast, about halfway between Tampa and Fort Myers, Florida. John Ringling had selected the city as the winter headquarters for his Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1927.
Red Sox Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr attended his first spring training camp with the team in 1937, and he remembers Sarasota fondly. “It was a great place to train,” Doerr recalled. “I remember in the early years that once you left the small downtown area, it was just open land. Miles and miles of palmetto grass with nothing built on it.
“Old Payne Park wasn’t much to speak of. It wouldn’t begin to compare to today’s parks. But there I was, an 18-year old, 3,000 miles from home, and I’m playing ball with guys like Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove. What a thrill.”
In 1938, Doerr was assigned the task of escorting future Red Sox star Ted Williams on the long train ride from California to Florida. Their trip took eight days as torrential rains swept the southern region of the United States. “Ted was so excited I remember two older women asking a conductor if he could get Ted to quiet down. He was using his pillow as a bat and trying to get major leaguers Babe Herman and Max West to give him hitting tips.
“I remember walking into the Red Sox clubhouse and introducing Ted to manager Joe Cronin. Ted’s greeting to Cronin was ‘Hi sport!’ I figure Ted earned his ticket to our Minneapolis farm club right then.”
Johnny Pesky remembered the long road trips to play exhibition games. “This was before the highways were built and before the fancy buses they have today. It was also long before they built the big bridge over Tampa Bay. I remember we used to take a bus over to Bradenton. Then we would get on a ferry to go over to Tampa to play the Cincinnati Reds. After the game we would have to repeat the whole process. It was a long trip, but we didn’t mind it at all.”
During World War II, clubs were prohibited from training south of the Potomac River, since the movement of military personnel was the nation’s top travel priority. In 1943, the Red Sox trained within ten miles of Fenway Park at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. In 1944, the team headed further south to Baltimore, Maryland, and in 1945 the team trained in Pleasantville, New Jersey.
With the war successfully concluded, the team returned to Sarasota in 1946. That spring training was one of Johnny Pesky’s favorite memories. “The war was over and you got to see guys you hadn’t seen for two or three years. It was like a reunion. And we had a great team that year.”
Doerr still remembered the camaraderie with the circus performers. “It was the darnedest thing. You would be walking down the street and you would see people of all sizes and shapes. A lot of them were baseball fans, and we would see them at our games. Later, when I was married, I would bring my wife and son to spring training and we would go over to watch the circus performers.
“I remember when the circus train would leave to head north, we would all line up to wave goodbye. It was quite a sight. And I remember in 1950 when they filmed the movie “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Most of the film was shot in Sarasota and we got to watch stars like Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart and Barbara Hutton at work. It was a lot of fun watching them shoot the scenes.”
Both Pesky and Doerr have strong memories of “barnstorming” their way north at the conclusion of spring training. “We used to link up on a train with the Reds, and we would stop along the way to play exhibition games,” Doerr recalls. “I remember playing in towns like Jacksonville, Florida, and Durham, North Carolina. We would change on the train before and after the games.”
Pesky especially remembered his first barnstorming trip. “I was still fighting for a major league job, and I had a great game in Lexington, Kentucky. Manager Joe Cronin came up to me and said, ‘John you’ve made the club.’ I’ll always remember that.”
Bobby Doerr recalls a barnstorming excursion that ended up in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville was the home both of the Red Sox Triple-A farm club for many years, and Hillerich & Bradsby, the leading manufacturer of major league baseball bats at the time.
“Ted and I walked over to their factory one morning. I remember we got there a half hour before they opened and we sat on their front steps waiting for them to get there. We toured the factory and of course Ted asked them a million questions. At one point he slipped a guy a $20 bill, which was a lot of money in those days, and told him to be sure they put extra piney wood in his bats. Ted would go to any length to make sure he was the best hitter in baseball.”
For many years the Red Sox preseason concluded with the “City Series” against their cross-town rivals the Boston Braves. The series began in 1925 and was always played just before opening day. The Braves and Red Sox met in the first Sunday major league game ever played in Boston on April 14, 1929. Attendance over the years ranged from a few thousand fans to the 33,279 who crowded Fenway Park on April 14, 1946. The teams played their last preseason game in Boston on April 12, 1953, at Fenway Park, honoring a commitment made prior to the Braves’ March decision to move to Milwaukee.
Weather was always a question mark for the City Series, and that is what Bobby Doerr remembered best. “It seemed like it was freezing every time we played the Braves. We enjoyed playing them, but we had just spent six weeks in Florida and barnstorming in warm weather. Boy, was it ever cold for those games.”
By the late 1950s the facilities at Payne Field in Sarasota had started to deteriorate. After several years of negotiating with the city of Sarasota for an upgrade to the ballpark, the team made the decision to relocate their spring training headquarters. After a total of 23 years in Sarasota, the Red Sox selected Scottsdale, Arizona, as their 1959 spring training site.
Arizona was a newcomer to the spring training sweepstakes in comparison to Florida. The Cleveland Indians and New York Giants had moved their spring training camps to Arizona in 1947. This move wasn’t the result of a sophisticated study of the advantages of the Arizona climate. Rather, Indians’ owner Bill Veeck owned a ranch in Tucson and he convinced Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham to bring his team along so the Indians would have someone to play.
Scottsdale is located just east of Phoenix in Arizona’s “Valley of the Sun.” When the town was incorporated as a city in 1951 its’ population was 2,000 and it consisted of one square mile. At the time of the Red Sox move, the city was still not well known. Today the population is more than 200,000, spreading over an area of 185 square miles.
When the Red Sox arrived in Scottsdale in 1959, they became the fourth member of the “Cactus League.” The Indians were still in Tucson, and while the Giants had moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958, they continued their spring training headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona. The other Cactus League member was the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs had moved to Mesa, Arizona, in 1952 after spending 24 years training on Catalina Island off the coast of southern California.
Arizona offers major league baseball teams consistently good weather. In March the average maximum temperature is 75 degrees. And sunshine is almost guaranteed. Unlike Florida, which is subject to extended rainy periods, the average precipitation level for Arizona for the month of March is three-quarters of an inch.
The players loved training in Scottsdale. Fall River native, the late Russ Gibson was in the Red Sox organization for thirteen years and caught for the major league team from 1967 to 1969. “I remember my first major league spring training camp like it was yesterday,” said in a 2009 interview. “I was a newlywed and my wife and I got there about a week before camp started. I ran into ‘The Monster’ (Red Sox reliever Dick Radatz) the first day there and he helped find us a place at the complex he stayed in.
“What a beautiful part of the country. You knew that every day would be as nice as the day before, or even nicer,” Gibson recalled. “And what beautiful scenery there is, with the mountains in the background. I had been at the Red Sox minor league camps at Deland and Ocala, Florida, so being in the big league camp in Scottsdale was really special.
“And the good weather made it easy to get in shape. The only problem was the dry heat. You would work up a sweat and five minutes later it would evaporate. But it was a great location for the hitters. The ball really carried in that air. It really gave the hitters a lot of confidence.”
If the batters loved hitting in the Arizona air, the pitchers hated it. Former Red Sox pitcher Billy Monbouquette trained in Scottsdale for seven of his eight years with the team. Mombo, who is a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame, came to dread facing Giant sluggers like Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.
“One time Willie Mays hit a rocket off me,” Mombo recalled. “I mean it cleared the outfield fence at the 350-foot mark, it soared over the parking lot behind the fence, and it landed beside a swimming pool, which was at least 500 feet from home plate. When the ball left the bat, Yaz (Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski) didn’t even move. He just stood there with his head down, and his hands on his knees.
“I was waiting for him on the top step of the dugout when he came in, and I said, ‘Don’t you ever show me up like that again! You can at least make some effort to get back under it.’ He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Bill, I’m not going to play back at the swimming pool.’ ”
Another Red Sox pitcher of that era, Gene Conley, had a unique spring training challenge. Conley, who pitched for the Red Sox from 1961 to 1963, was also a key member of the Boston Celtics. The perennial World Champion Celtics would finish their playoff run just about the time his baseball club was breaking camp. Conley would usually report to spring training in time to say “goodbye” to his baseball teammates. Conley solved his problem by recruiting retired ballplayers to play with him. “I would look around and see all these guys in their 1930s uniforms,” Conley recalled. “It was like having my own Field of Dreams.”
Johnny Pesky, who had played his entire big league career training in Florida, managed the Red Sox in 1964 and 1965. “I loved it out in Scottsdale,” Johnny recalled. “Good weather every day, lots to do when you weren’t at the ballpark. But you had to be careful about overrating the hitters or getting down on your pitchers. The ball really flew in that light air.”
Scottsdale provided great weather and gorgeous scenery, but it wasn’t ideal for the Boston Red Sox. The major league camp was separated from the minor league camp in Florida by 2,000 miles. Having only three teams to match their talent against was another drawback. And finally, it was a long way for their loyal fan base to travel. After seven seasons in Arizona, the team decided it was time to head back to Florida.
YEAR GRAPEFRUIT LEAGUE CACTUS LEAGUE
FLORIDA-BASED TEAMS ARIZONA-BASED TEAMS
WINTER HAVEN, FLORIDA
Prior to the 1966 season the Boston Red Sox relocated their spring training headquarters to Winter Haven, Florida. Winter Haven is a central Florida community of about 20,000, located between Orlando and Tampa, Florida. Winter Haven had some baseball history: it had been the spring training headquarters for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1928 to 1937.
Before the arrival of the Red Sox, Winter Haven was best known as the home of Cypress Gardens. Cypress Gardens is a theme park featuring lush gardens, animals and a well-known water-skiing show. Established in 1936, it is recognized as Florida’s oldest tourist attraction.
The first spring training camp was relatively uneventful and the team went on to finish in ninth place for the second straight season. But in 1967, things began to change. The biggest single change was the arrival of rookie manager Dick Williams. Williams ran his first camp like a Marine Corps drill sergeant. When his pitchers weren’t throwing or running he had them playing volleyball on the sidelines.
Russ Gibson marveled at how organized Dick Williams was. “The pitchers and catchers arrived before the hitters, and as a catcher you spent hours and hours down in your crouch while the pitchers stretched their arms out. You would wear yourself out before the full camp even got underway.
“Dick was aware of this, and realized it was only hurting the catchers. He went out and hired a couple of local guys who could catch and that kept us from breaking down. That guy (Williams), he thought of everything.”
The 1967 season produced the “Impossible Dream Team” and the return of baseball as a New England passion. Spring training in 1968 was Gibson’s favorite preseason. “Our 1967 season was so great that we couldn’t wait to get back to Winter Haven. There was something really special about going to camp as the American League champs. We thought it would go on forever.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF DAN VALENTI
Spring training in 1968 was also special because the Winter Haven facilities had been expanded to provide space for all of the team’s minor league players. The Dodgers had pioneered the concept of an organization-wide spring training camp, acquiring an old naval airbase in Vero Beach, Florida, in 1949. With the addition of four playing fields to the Chain- O-Lakes facility, every player in the Red Sox system was at the same location with the same professional instructors available.
A sure harbinger of spring for New Englanders is the news report that “the Red Sox equipment truck has left Fenway Park and is in route to their spring training headquarters in Florida.” For twenty-four years the man who made that happen was the late Jack Rodgers who served as the team’s traveling secretary from 1969 until his retirement in 1992.
“It was a little bit like running a small community for a couple of months,” Rogers recalled in a 2003 interview. “I would go down to Winter Haven in mid-January to get things organized. We had to make sure that the facility was all set and to get the local staff organized. Everything had to be in place before the pitchers and catchers reported.
“We helped the players to find housing. The team headquarters was in the Holiday Inn about a mile from the park. The hotel would be filled with fans from New England. We looked forward to seeing the same faces year-after-year. In those days we averaged about 3,500 fans at our exhibition games. If we drew over 4,000 it was a good crowd,” Rogers chuckled.
Rogers had to deal with a myriad of problems ranging from visa issues for players arriving from Latin America to overdue video rentals. Winter Haven became a home away from home for Rogers and his wife. “Winter Haven was a small town, and you knew that anybody you ran into was there for baseball. We made a lot of friends there.”
What was the toughest part of the job for Rogers? “I was the last person to see a player who had been released. They had to see me to get their last check.” Always a kind man, Rogers added, “A lot of times it was the best thing that could have happened to the player.”
Jack Rogers retired from the Red Sox on December 31, 1992. In mid-January 1993 he was in Fort Myers, Florida, at the Red Sox new spring training facility. “They brought me back as a consultant to help out. It was a short retirement,” Rogers chuckled.
Winter Haven holds some special memories for former pitcher Bob Stanley. Stanley, who tops the list for lifetime pitching appearances for the Red Sox, remembered his first spring training camp. “I was an eighteen year-old kid, away from home for the first time. I remember what it was like to compete for a job. We had all been local stars and now we were fighting for a spot.
“My first three years I stayed at the Howard Johnson’s Motel with all the other minor leaguers. Then I got to move next door to the Holiday Inn with the major leaguers. That was a big deal.
“Over the years as our family grew it became a real family adventure. We always stayed in the same two adjoining rooms at the Holiday Inn, right beside the kiddies’ pool,” Stanley recalled. “My wife could sit outside the rooms and enjoy the sun while our kids napped. As the kids got older, we arranged for a tutor so the kids could keep up with their class work and we could be together as a family.
“Jerry Remy used to stay at the Holiday Inn with his family too. Every night we would take our kids, and any other kids who happened to be around, and play ball by the pool. We used to have an Easter egg hunt out there every year. One year there was one egg that nobody could ever find. The next year we were playing by the pool and I went into the bushes to find the ball and there was the missing egg. We had some great times.”
When the Red Sox returned for spring training in 1989, it marked the team’s 24th season in Winter Haven. “The Hayve,” as the players affectionately called it, had surpassed Sarasota, Florida, as the team’s longest running spring training site. But the City of Winter Haven was having trouble maintaining the facility to the Red Sox standards.
Jim Healey, who served as the Red Sox point man in the selection of a new spring training location remembered it well. Healey, who worked in the club’s front office from 1975 to 2002, understood the city’s plight. “The officials wanted to meet their commitment, but like all municipalities they were strapped for cash. Finally, it became an issue of safety. Some of the fields were in such tough shape, we were afraid that a player would get hurt.
“We realized that it was time to find a new spring training location,” Healey said. “We actually looked at 15 different alternatives in Florida. We came fairly close to working something out with Naples, Florida. When that didn’t work out they suggested that I talk to Mayor Wilbur Smith in Fort Myers.”
FORT MYERS, FLORIDA
Fort Myers is a city of 50,000, located on the Caloosatchee River, about 65 miles south of Sarasota, Florida. Nearby Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Captiva Islands provide direct access to the Gulf of Mexico. The city first came to national prominence when inventor Thomas Edison built his winter home and a laboratory there in 1885. Edison was the driving force in importing and planting the trees that give the community its “City of Palms” nickname.
“The city was anxious to revitalize its downtown, and they saw our ballpark as a catalyst,” recalls Jim Healey. “They were great to work with. The one stumbling block was the lack of land to build the major and minor league facilities together,” said referring to the former City of Palms setup. We were able to locate the minor league facilities about two miles down the street.
“The city voted six to one in favor of the bond issue for the facility and we broke ground in March of 1992. I actually served as a ‘member’ of the Fort Myers City Council for one day in order to put the project together. We worked with the HOK architectural firm from Kansas City, and created the ideal spring training ballpark. We started construction in May 1992 and we were finished in time for spring training in 1993.
“I remember the first game at City of Palms Park very well. We were scheduled to play Boston College and they were stuck at Logan Airport in a snowstorm,” Jim says. “I spent most of the day on the telephone with Massport. Their plane finally got clearance and they landed in Fort Myers at 5:30 PM for a 7 PM game. They came directly to the ballpark and played very well, so it all worked out.”
“The Minnesota Twins had moved to Fort Myers in 1991, and initially they were very opposed to our move to the city,” Healey remembers. “But we were convinced that our presence would create a rivalry that would help both clubs. And that’s the way it turned out.
City of Palms Park had capacity of about 7,800, including standing room and it was a hit with fans from the beginning. During their first spring training season in Fort Myers in 1993, the Boston Red Sox averaged 6,400 fans per game, about 50% more than their final year in Winter Haven. Attendance at City of Palms Park grew steadily over the years, and from 2003 through 2011 the team recorded 109 consecutive sellouts for Grapefruit League contests.
Former Red Sox right fielder Mike Greenwell grew up in Fort Myers, and he is proud that the Red Sox play in his community. “In 1991, I represented the Red Sox before the Fort Myers City Council and spoke about the organization and the benefits the Red Sox would bring to the area. A couple of months later they voted to move forward.”
Mike Greenwell trained with the Red Sox in his hometown from 1993 to 1996. “The best part was playing in front of family, friends and old teammates,” he recalls. “Most of them had never seen me play in person before.”
There were many memorable moments at City of Palms Park, but the Red Sox-Yankees game of March 7, 2004, probably created more media and fan excitement than any exhibition game in spring training history. Fans spent the night before the game camped outside City of Palms Park hoping for standing room admission and tickets on eBay were posted at an asking price of $499.
The Red Sox-Yankees drama had both a main plot: the renewal of the best rivalry in sports less than five months after the Red Sox heartbreaking loss in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. And a sub-plot: the first appearance of Alex Rodriguez in a Red Sox game wearing a New York Yankee uniform.
When Kevin Millar bounded up the dugout stairs for batting practice before the game with the Yankees he announced, “Game 7 rematch, boys, let’s go.” And in the clubhouse, speaking for Ramirez, Millar told the media, “Manny Ramirez says this is Game Eight. If we don’t win, it’s over.”
The Red Sox jumped out to an early 4-0 lead to the delight of the sellout crowd, and A-Rod was roundly booed in his two at-bats. But in time the game morphed into a typical spring training exhibition, and the 11-7 Yankee win became just a footnote.
Looking back, Kevin Millar confirms that the players were just as excited about the game with the Yankees as the media and the fans. “This was at the time that the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry was starting to build to its height. There is such a thing as butterflies for a spring training game,” Millar insists.
JETBLUE PARK AT FENWAY SOUTH
JetBlue Park at Fenway South, which opened in 2012, is symbolic of the club’s long-term commitment to Lee County. The Boston Red Sox and Lee County signed a lease in 2011 that ensures that the Boston Red Sox will be an important part of the local community for the next 30 years.
JetBlue Park has 10,000 seats and it can hold about 11,000 fans with standing room. “We have about 2,500 more seats at JetBlue Park, so we are better able to accommodate our fans,” says Katie Haas, who was Director of Florida Business Operations for the Red Sox when JetBlue opened. “And our standing room areas provide a nice view of the field,” she added.
The needs of Red Sox fans were considered at every step of the design process Haas emphasized. “With every design decision we asked ourselves, ‘What will be best for our fans?’ Just as an example, we will have golf carts available in the parking lots for fans who want a ride to the main entrance.”
JetBlue Park is brand-new but it pays homage to its 107 year-old “cousin” 1,250 miles to the north. The seating bowl in the new park duplicates the geometry and playing field dimensions of Fenway Park. This gives fans a sense of a home-away-from-home and it enables players to better prepare for their 81 home games in the unique setting of Fenway Park.
JetBlue Park features a Green Monster Wall that includes a refurbished scoreboard that operated in Fenway Park for almost 30 years. “The Red Sox replaced this scoreboard before the 2001 season,” Katie Haas said. “It was in storage in South Dakota for about 10 years before it was shipped to us in 2011. We have had it completely retrofitted and fans love it.”
Red Sox fans seem to love everything about JetBlue Park at Fenway South. As many as 2,500 fans watch the pre-exhibition season workouts and the minor league fields are a big draw. In 2018, the Red Sox led the Grapefruit League an attendance, drawing 165,688 fans attending 17 exhibition games at JetBlue Park.
Mike Greenwell’s Bat-A-Ball & Family Fun Park is located in nearby Cape Coral. As a local business man, Mike is very aware of the economic benefits of Red Sox spring training. “The Red Sox draw a lot of fans. And JetBlue Park came along when the economy really needed a boost. This is Red Sox country,” Mike emphasizes.
BOSTON RED SOX SPRING TRAINING ATTENDANCE FOR SELECTED YEARS
|YEAR||LOCATION||AVERAGE PER GAME||TOTAL ATTENDANCE|
|1977||Winter Haven, FL||2,924||29,240|
|1983||Winter Haven, FL||3,481||41,769|
|1988||Winter Haven, FL||4,050||60,747|
|1998||Fort Myers, FL||5,560||94,517|
|2002||Fort Myers, FL||7,422||103,913|
|2018||Fort Myers, FL||9,746||165,688|
Portions of this article appeared in various editions of Red Sox Magazine. To subscribe to Red Sox Magazine click here.