The renovations to LECOM Park over the past decade, while retaining the classic ballpark charm, have helped put Bradenton’s spring training facility above the rest in a fan vote the past two years.
But taking that stadium away, we asked several Pittsburgh Pirates players which Grapefruit League park is their favorite to visit during the spring.
Drum roll, please.
The Boston Red Sox’s spring home at JetBlue Park – also known as Fenway South – in Fort Myers was the consensus choice among the veteran major-leaguers the Bradenton Herald spoke to before Thursday’s 4-1 victory against the Toronto Blue Jays.
“It’s about a comfortable surface,” Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison said. “It’s no secret in spring training as the games wear on and it gets hot out, the fields get hard.”
Pirates players travel on a team bus to each away game in the spring so the long trips usually aren’t ones that spark major appeal.
However, that’s something that is inevitable considering it’s Florida during peak season for tourists and high volume traffic.
So for Harrison, having a good playing surface rates high. He said he has that with LECOM Park, JetBlue and Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex, the spring home of the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers.
“If the surface is safe, that’s where I don’t mind playing,” Harrison said.
Harrison said JetBlue has a cool atmosphere with the replica Green Monster that is reminiscent of Boston’s Fenway Park.
“That stadium, the (crowd) draw is really nice,” veteran utility player Sean Rodriguez said.
Similar to Harrison, Rodriguez, who started in center field for the Pirates on Thursday, ranks Grapefruit League parks on their playing surface and the travel.
He said Sarasota’s Ed Smith Stadium isn’t bad, but JetBlue is his favorite.
“You’re basically playing a mini-Fenway,” Rodriguez said. “That’s pretty cool.”
That wasn’t the only park mentioned as a favorite.
Pittsburgh shortstop Jordy Mercer leans toward Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, home to the Tampa Bay Rays.
“It’s a cool place to play and it seems like it’s a nice park,” Mercer said.
Mercer, though, also mentioned both Fort Myers parks — JetBlue and CenturyLink — on his short list of favorite Grapefruit League road venues.
“It’s just neat to be able to go travel and see some of the old traditions where a lot of the Florida State League teams play, too,” Mercer said.
Meanwhile, right-handed pitcher Ivan Nova doesn’t have a favorite park. He said as long as he’s doing what he loves, he likes any park in which he can pitch.
That said, his Florida State League days brought to mind one facility as his least favorite: Dunedin.
“Feel like every fly ball there is a home run,” Nova said.
The Pirates have 13 more Grapefruit League games at LECOM Park before breaking camp, starting with Saturday’s matchup with the Philadelphia Phillies. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.