Florida's Best Baseball Sites
Enhance your spring training vacation with a visit to these hidden treasures from our National Pastime; an excerpt from the book "Roadside Baseball"
For the true baseball fan, there is nothing quite like a visit to spring training. You see Major League baseball being played as up close as you probably ever will. You can study the nuances like never before, kids collect autographs in bunches and a foul ball seems to come close every two minutes.
It's America's Pastime brought down to its most personal, accessible level, and for both purists and casual fans alike, there is a special magic to baseball enjoyed during spring training.
In my book "Roadside Baseball", I documented hundreds of places around the country where baseball history happened, from former stadium sites to birthplaces; plaques, markers, monuments--you name it. Many of these sites can be found in Florida. So if you visit spring training this year, think about taking a few detours to experience some baseball history. One of Babe Ruth's longest home runs, Jackie Robinson's debut, The Ted Williams Retrospective Museum & Library--they're all part of Roadside Baseball and I think they'll add a special layer to any baseball trip (not to mention the great photo ops!).
Jackie Robinson Ballpark (formerly called City Island Ballpark)
City: Daytona Beach Location: 105 E. Orange Avenue, 386-258-3106
This historic ballpark can claim a milestone moment in American history. City Island Ballpark was the place where Jackie Robinson, on March 17, 1946, began his professional career as a member of the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers Class AAA farm team that trained in Daytona Beach. The spring training game between the Royals and the Dodgers was the first integrated major league game of the 20th century and a preview of Robinson's major league debut in 1947. The ballpark was renamed in Robinson's honor in 1990 and a statue bearing his likeness is located at the entrance. Jackie Robinson Park was built in 1930 and has served as temporary home to many Hall of Famers. In November 1998, the ballpark was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its status and contributions to the civil rights movement. Today, the ballpark is home of the Daytona Cubs, a Chicago Cubs Class A farm team that plays in the Florida State League.
Tate High School
City: Gonzalez Location: 1771 Tate Road, 850-937-2300
Since 1954, 45 players from Tate High School have been drafted by major league teams, including Hall of Famer Don Sutton, who pitched in the major leagues for 23 years, earned four All-Star Game selections and pitched in four World Series. Other Tate High School products include Jay Bell and Travis Fryman. A nearby billboard touts the major leaguers the school has produced and there's an exhibit within the school.
Ted Williams Retrospective Museum & Library, Inc.
City: Hernando Location: 2455 North Citrus Hills Blvd., 352-527-6566
On February 9, 1994, a few blocks from where Ted Williams lived, the Ted Williams Museum was dedicated. The museum is laid out like a baseball diamond--each base representing a different chapter in the Splendid Splinter's legendary career. First base begins with Williams playing for the Minneapolis Millers and the San Diego Padres before arriving in the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox. Second base documents Williams' military exploits during World War II and the Korean War. The theme continues, chronicling Williams' spectacular career, 1960 retirement, managerial career and beyond. Williams memorabilia takes up most of the outer rim of the diamond, with inside space devoted to such other players as Cal Ripken and Don Mattingly. On a platform in the middle of the diamond (where the pitcher's mound would be) is a statue of Williams, immortalized in his classic batting stance. In the "Hitter's Wing," there are displays honoring Williams' choices as the 20 greatest hitters of all time, a list that includes Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson and Babe Ruth.
In addition to the numerous displays, visitors can see thousands of pieces of memorabilia, much of it from private collectors, and video clips showing classic moments involving Williams and other legends. The museum holds induction ceremonies every year to honor Williams and other worthy players from the past and present. In Williams' own words, "Through the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame, we hope to build a lasting monument, an architectural tribute to what I think is the single most difficult thing in all of sports; hitting a baseball. We hope the Museum will become a place millions of baseball fans will visit and enjoy for generations to come. I hope you'll join us as we transform our dreams into reality."