Living in the Southeast in terms of baseball, you really have the Braves and that is it. Tampa Bay is 7 hours away, Miami about 10 hours out, and Houston/Dallas are about 12 hours away. Cincinnati is as close to Atlanta as Tampa Bay is, but nobody considers Cincinnati "South" do they?
So I resort to Minor League Baseball. In the South, there are 2 major leagues for the Minors: the Southern League (AA) and South Atlantic League (A). The Southern League is dominated by teams mainly in Alabama and Tennessee while the South Atlantic League is all along the coastline with 3 teams in Georgia alone. So that means a lot of fun day trips for me.
So while I love both leagues and love going to Minor League games, I was very intrigued by the Florida State League as I went down to Tampa last year. It was the league in between the South Atlantic League and Southern League according to class (A Advanced). AND I got to see the spring training parks on top of it.
When I went, my family and I stayed in Clearwater, which not only is the home of the Threshers and a small distance from the Tampa Yankees as well as a nice drive from Dunedin where the Jays are housed. Tampa and Clearwater were home, but Dunedin was not so I only saw the first two.
My first trip was to Tampa. Ticket prices were already low at $6 for box seats and $4 for General Admission, but they had a deal where if you were a fan of them and you gave them a "code" you could get general admission seats for $2. I took that option.
I got to the park and was surprised on how relatively big it was. It wasn't huge, but bigger than most minor league parks. But the structure was big obviously for the Spring Training time. The exterior, while it wasn't like a "modern" park and cement, had a nice feel to it, as well as having the landscape very well maintained with all the retired numbers of the New York Yankees around, making you feel like you were in a Yankee complex. There was a statue of George Steinbenner out in front as well, as he was a guy who loved the city of Tampa and did a lot for the Yankees. Say what you will about the guy.....he wanted to win. Can't blame him for that.
I got in and I knew right away it wasn't going to be anything like Yankee Stadium in New York. First off, the employees were all very friendly, compared to some of the angry ones I dealt with in the Bronx. The concourses were nice and wide.
When I got my ticket, I was unsure on where to go, but then as I walked into the park, I noticed I could pretty much go anywhere in the park without any hassle. The place was practically empty. The attendance was accounted for 1,500 but I'm guessing that was "paid" because I think it only had 500 at the most. The fans who were there were very quiet and subdued.
The park itself was vastly different from any other Minor League Park. It was a symmetrical place, more like emulating Yankee Stadium, but with a party deck in right field. There wasn't much of a scenic view, with trees and what looked like a swamp from left to center field with Raymond James Stadium from afar in right field. But it was the structure from baseline to baseline that got me. The seats were covered with a roof (partially) but it had the famed Yankee Stadium frieze all around it and underneath the roof they had tiles spelling Yankees, to make sure you know where you were. I found it different and I actually liked it. Underneath that had two colored tickers, but was only used for advertisements.
A lot of luxury boxes were behind home plate but I don't think even one luxury box was used on the game I went. The scoreboard was okay with a small screen display, the line score, and a ticker score which was just the plain old ones that were used pre HD and it looked out of date.
Overall I enjoyed my trip to Steinbrenner Field. I thought it was a neat ballpark, though it was very big park (and I heard it is like that even for Spring Training). Maybe it was because the fans after being treated by actual MLB players for a month that they didn't want to see lesser ball or whatnot, but I heard the rest of the Florida State League parks that have Spring Training are similar. But the fans here were not really engaged except for the kids who were chasing for foul balls. I liked the nod they had for their parent club with the numbers of the Yankee greats and the banners of them along the concourses.
My overall score on the park was 80.5%. To me that is a good ballpark. My biggest issue was the atmosphere for a Minor League game was lacking. But besides that, it was a nice experience.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THE PARK:
1. PRICES. From ticket prices to food prices. Most food prices were $4 and under.
2. FREE PARKING. I guess it is what you get when nobody rarely shows up.
3. YANKEE HOMAGE. Not a Yankees fan, but I do like how they really wanted to make you feel you were a part of the Yankees.
4. FOOD QUALITY. Food was very good, though not a lot in variety.
5. MAINTENANCE. Place was one of the cleanest parks I've ever been to, inside and out.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE ABOUT THE PARK:
1. ATMOSPHERE. Honestly it seemed like nobody cared about the game, at least the ones who showed up. And it didn't seem like there was a lot of Yankees gear on the fans, whether it was Tampa Yankees or New York Yankees. It just had a lifeless feel to it. Probably very different than what you see in March.