Ballpark of the Palm Beaches opens to the public in a month.
For city officials, the major league baseball complex off Haverhill Road brings big league teams for the first time since 1997 when the Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos played their final games at West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium. It will fill thousands of hotel rooms and restaurant seats, not to mention filling ballpark seats with tourists and locals alike. The Houston Astros’ and Washington Nationals’ arrival stands to bolster the county economy and image as well, and the state’s standing as home plate for spring training.
But the most immediate impact will be felt by those who drive up to walk the complex starting Feb. 18, when the ballplayers put in their first full day of workouts, and those who watch the two teams play the first game, 10 days later.
They’ll smell the fresh-cut grass of 12 ball fields, some for the minor leaguers and two for the majors, and of the half-dozen soccer fields that will be open for play by local leagues when not in use for stadium parking. All, on a former landfill whose 160 acres as little as a year ago were populated mainly by Australian pines and weedy stretches of sand.
Ballpark General Manager Brady Ballard said entering the complex will be an “immersive experience” for visitors.
The first thing they’ll notice will be the palms, young shade trees and other landscaping that make it a welcoming scene. There’ll be a series of people directing cars and pedestrians through the paved and grassy lots.
They’ll quickly find themselves beside the two major league playing fields outside the stadium. “So steps from entering, they’re going to see ballplayers in action.”
The sidewalk rises up an incline as it nears the stadium, allowing enough elevation to overlook the green array of baseball diamonds that stretches from Haverhill on the west to Military Trail on the east. Two pedestrian bridges lead toward the elevated main concourse, from which visitors can either descend to their seats or continue walking the concourse which wraps around the stadium, allowing views of the playing field, bullpens and almost the whole complex from 360-degrees around.
You’ll pass the team stores and the Banana Boat lawn — where there’s room for about 1,000 people to sit, with a centerfield concession stand nearby. If you’re visiting from the frigid north sitting on the warm, green grass isn’t such a bad thing, Ballard said. “A berm is a rite of spring training.”
Otherwise, there are 6,500 seats closer in. Tickets went on sale Saturday morning 1.5 miles north at Rapids Water Park, at 6550 N. Military Trail.
A shade study was conducted in designing the stadium’s seating area. According to Ballard, at least 40 percent of the seating will gain shade through the middle of the day, and more will be in the shade as the afternoon continues.
No doubt, early visitors will still see workers in action, as contractors race the clock to finish the stadium in time for the Feb. 28 season opener and about 30 days of games that follow, before the boys of spring head north to become boys of summer.
As of this week, sod is still being rolled on the soccer/multipurpose fields on the southern stretch of the site. A land has been leveled for city park that will take up eight acres in the southwestern corner but the park design is still in progress.
Anyone driving by this week, or jogging the newly widened landscaped perimeter sidewalks, will see ball fields that look ready to go, six for the Astros and six for the Nats.
Almost every other inch of open space still serves as staging areas for construction vehicles and equipment. But soon all that space will be open, for free during training days, for the public to walk around a few feet from some of the best players in baseball, watch them work out and maybe grab a selfie.
Ballard, meanwhile, has his eye on the ball. He’s looking for a sellout crowd of 7500 on opening day.
Have a West Palm Beach news tip? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-820-4703.