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Orlando/Kissimmee, FL -- Braves Spring Training at Walt Disney World
I first went to spring training in 1982 with my father. We camped every night and simply showed up for batting practice and a front row seat at one generally rickety stadium after another. I've returned to the Sunshine State (and Arizona) for spring training many times, but the stadiums are now generally more modern and larger (as are the crowds). One of my favorite destinations for Grapefruit League games and more continues to be Disney's Wide World of Sports, home of Atlanta Braves spring training (at Champion Stadium) and many other year-round sports-oriented possibilities (including many "Endurance" events ranging from very popular marathons and shorter runs to obstacle course races).
Those who want to catch the Braves will find that they're quite popular at their "home" field in Disney and on the road as well. Whereas I never used to buy tickets in advance when they shared a stadium with the old Montreal Expos in West Palm Beach, I like to occasionally guarantee a good seat close to the action when I know there's going to be a good crowd at Champion Stadium or elsewhere.
Of course, Champion Stadium and the Braves continue to be a big draw for me and other Braves fans (I had season tickets to the AAA Richmond Braves for many years and look forward to their new home in Gwinnett). Quite simply, Champion Stadium is one of the top spring training destinations in the country.
Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando is being re-branded as an "ESPN" destination. This provides some serious immersion in baseball and sports in general at the stadium, including Disney's Wide World of Sports Café, other sporting venues and events, the Major League Baseball Draft, and much more.
For the 2009 spring training season (the 12th for the Braves at Disney), they added possibilities like an "On-Field Spectator Experience" (including batting practice and pre-game warm-up from behind the plate), an All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet down the third base line, and varied theme nights. Nearby hotels (Pop Century Hotel is just down the road), restaurants, activities, and varied attractions make this a top spring training venue for me and many others.
"The spring training fan experience at Champion Stadium is really special," says Alex Vergara in Disney's marketing department. "Our new Kodak on-field experience, for example, offers fans an opportunity to purchase a special game ticket experience that let's them get an up-close and personal look at their favorite players during batting practice and warm-ups -- while also being surrounded by the magic of Disney through appearances by Disney characters and Disney's exceptional guest service. It's a spring training baseball experience unlike any other in the Grapefruit League."
Though flexibility is good for most, one-stop-shopping with a respected outfit like Spring Training USA can be appealing to the time- and planning-challenged. They have varied all-inclusive packages for fans of specific teams (including the Braves), with most trips including an exclusive event with team personnel and players!
We'll continue to cover spring training in coming years (including Disney's great Champion Stadium).