Good-bye, old trash dump. Hello, Major League Baseball.
Where piles of rotted garbage and old tires once lay buried under decades of sand and overgrown weeds, The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is ready for some baseball.
The new spring training home of the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros marks the return of spring training to West Palm Beach for the first time since the Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos left after the 1997 season.
But the 160-acre site’s use as a landfill from 1955 to 2000 isn’t the only significant feature of the $150 million facility, which broke ground on Nov. 9, 2015, and was financed in part with millions from a county hotel tax.
“You are turning a trash dump into something pretty spectacular,’’ Astros owner Jim Crane promised Palm Beach County officials more than two years ago about a vision he shared with Mark Lerner, the Nationals’ principal owner.
How spectacular? Here’s a starting lineup of noteworthy features:
Grand staircase: The main entrance, on the third base side, features a set of steps to reach the main concourse where fans then walk down into the seating bowl of 6,500 seats. The concourse is also accessible from two pedestrian bridges, one leading north toward to the Astros’ practice fields and the other south to the Nationals’ fields.
“The grand staircase reminds us of many of the design clues in the Palm Beaches. So do the simple lines and clean building overhangs,’’ said architect Mo Stein of HKS Architects.
360-degree concourse: The main concourse is open air, meaning visitors can walk around the entire concourse without missing a single pitch — a common feature in Cactus League facilities in Arizona but not so common in the Grapefruit League.
On the concourse at the left field foul pole will be the Left Field Bar, overlooking the game action and offering more than 30 tap handles for beer and televisions on display. Picnic tables can be found along the third base line. Above most of the outfield is an expansive grass berm where fans can watch the game — but no seats.
Made in the shade: In designing the main stadium, HKS studied the sun angles in West Palm Beach throughout the day in February and March. As a result, the footprint of the field has the right field line, including home plate to first base, running slightly north of due east.
With help from a shade structure extending 14 feet over the seating bowl at least 40 percent of the seats will gain shade at first pitch, with shadows falling over more seats throughout the game.
A touch of Houston, D.C.: One of the Astros’ six practice fields has the exact dimension of the team’s regular-season stadium, Minute Maid Park in Houston. Two of the Nationals’ six fields have the same dimensions as Nationals Park in Washington.
“It’s really for the outfielders. We’ve got to get these guys to adjust and get accustomed to taking balls and caroms off the walls,’’ said Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe.
Seats on the field: They’re called Field Boxes for a reason: These VIP seats along the first base line are literally on the field, the same level of ground that All Stars Bryce Harper and Jose Altuve walk to reach their positions. The west end of the section abuts the easternmost end of the Nationals’ dugout.
Seats range from $37 to $56, depending on the opposing team, and include comfortable chairs, waiter service and, of course, a seat as close to the action as possible.
Even if you can’t splurge for field boxes, there are solid views of the field throughout the complex. “The bowl itself does not have a bad seat,” Stein said. “I think you will feel closer to the game here than most other parks.”
Protective netting: To protect traffic on a road near four practice fields, the teams studied the trajectories of some of baseball’s longest home runs. Chances are that none of the many, many baseballs being hit into the air by talented Major League Baseball players every day at practice will come close to hitting any cars driving along Military Trail.
Although four practice fields back up against the road, protection is offered by walls of black netting, 100 feet high in some places. “It would take some monumental shots to clear the safety netting that we have planned,’’ said architect Mike Drye of HKS.
Outdoor swimming pool: In what is believed to be a spring training first, the Nationals will have an outdoor swimming pool outside their clubhouse. But don’t expect to see ace pitcher Max Scherzer doing cannonball jumps in this pool. It’s for exercise and training only, with four lanes outfitted to shoot water for resistance.
Art at the ballpark: Stainless steel panels, sculpted by artist Blessing Hancock, can be found above the concourse. From a distance, the screens will resemble a cluster of palm fronds. As visitors get closer, they will see a grid pattern of tiny baseball players in motion, focusing on sequences of hitting, throwing and catching. The panels will create artistic shadows reflected onto the concourse.
And on the railings of bridges connecting the stadium to the practice fields panels will be installed depicting baseball imagery.
Public park: In the southwest corner of the complex is a 12-acre public park, built by the teams for West Palm Beach. When completed later this spring, it will feature a playground, splash park, four lighted basketball courts and a 1.8 mile walking trail available to the community on a daily basis.
ARE YOU FOLLOWING US ON FACEBOOK?
Find Palm Beach Post reporter Tony Doris’ continuous updates on news and events in West Palm Beach at the Post on West Palm Beach Facebook page.