Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives

At the Ballpark – Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte, FL
July 11, 2011, 11:43 pm
Filed under: 2011, Reviews

Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte, FL - click the photo for more photos of this visit

One of the many great things about the Florida State League is that, with an exception or two, the entire circuit plays in spring training facilities. This makes for a convenient atmosphere for fans and clubs alike. Fans are greeted with large facilities and plenty of room to move, while clubs can be close to their spring bases. Some teams also send players to this league to rehab.

While a lot of the league outposts are in or near the more major markets in Florida (four teams in the Tampa area, for instance), one tends to stand out like a proverbial sore thumb. Port Charlotte, Florida is a small community on the western coast of the state best known to many as an area that was hammered by Hurricane Charley in 2004. It looks a lot like many Florida coastal towns, and despite the lack of a more notable city nearby, Charlotte Sports Park (built in 1987 and renovated over the last few years) has still served quite the purpose to this area.

The Rangers spent 15 years making Charlotte Sports Park their home, and now the Rays hope to further carve their niche in southwest Florida. The club has made the area the home for their spring camp, FSL affiliate and rookie Gulf Coast League team. Has the team found a worthy home? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B

There are several concession stands on the main concourse, including a grill on the first base side and a stand almost immediately to your left as you enter the park. The workers at the stand I attended were reasonably nice, and the prices were passable. I had a pretzel with cheese ($3.50) and a soda. The pretzel was decent, if undercooked a little. The soda was also decent, but in a somewhat flimsy souvenir cup. The park pours Pepsi products, including Dr. Pepper.

There are also some more interesting options, such as Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches (not available on Sundays) and hamburgers. The hamburgers looked like pretty standard fare, not something that was freshly grilled. I also saw someone a few rows down with an order of nachos that looked downright monstrous. I don’t know exactly what they were or how much they cost, but they were gigantic.

Atmosphere: F

Quick editor’s caveat: I am often berated by fans of teams who feel as though I have something against their team or city when I review parks. I say to you now, as I do to them, that these grades are representative of what I see the day I attend. The experience may be perfect every other time, but it is only fair to document exactly what I see. With that said…

I didn’t want to just like this park. I wanted to love this park. I came away hugely disappointed by a number of things, however.

This ballpark had a number of things about it that made it distinctly “minor league”. It took three different times of asking at the ticket office to determine which pricing level actually guarantees a fixed seat (it’s the $9 tickets, by the way). That pricing level allows you to sit anywhere in the 200 level or the last section of each side of the 100 level. Once inside, the focus is almost strictly on baseball, which isn’t totally a bad thing. There was one between-innings promotion, featuring a seven or eight-year-old girl doing a “singalong” to a song that was released in 1984 (some helpful fans told her the lyrics, though). The main distraction from the game is that the PA announcer has a goofy sound effect locked and loaded for every pitch, every foul ball, every event whatsoever that happens in the game. The constant intrusions get really tiresome, particularly when there can’t be 150 people in the park, which happened on this day despite the “announced” attendance of 1700-plus.

There was another experience that I had regarding fan friendliness that really rubbed me the wrong way. It started to rain during the game (welcome to Florida, I suppose), and was actually raining harder than it did the previous day when the game got rained out. I had an umbrella with me, which I had brought past numerous people into the park with no one making a single comment regarding its use. I opened the umbrella – after seeing others with open umbrellas in the seating bowl, mind you – and was approached by a team employee telling me that I couldn’t have the umbrella open in the seating area. I was given the options of joining the rest of the huddled masses in the nosebleed seats at the top of the 200 section, with the few rows covered by the overhang, or sitting out in the rain. The fact that a) I was the only one visibly approached with others having open umbrellas and b) there were literally ten-plus rows of open seats behind me made me almost angry enough to leave at that point. I waited until after game one of the doubleheader to do so, and the second game was suspended (by rain, of course) in the second inning.

I found out after getting back from the game that it says on the team website that umbrellas cannot be opened in the seating bowl for “safety reasons”. That might be understandable if anyone had even been remotely near me, and I would have even been okay if someone had mentioned this to me before I entered the seating bowl. However, I had no access to the team’s website before entering the park, and there was no need to be rude on behalf of the team. So, if you’re planning to come to the park, be sure not to bring your “deadly weapon” umbrella (but wait, you can use it on the concourse!), and bring some ear plugs to drown out the sound effects. There were two really nice team employees that deserve recognition, Nicole (I believe) in the team store, and a team employee who thanked me for coming to the park as I exited through the first base gate. I didn’t catch the gate employee’s name, but the fact that he took the time to thank me took a bit of the sting off my otherwise annoying experience.

Sight lines: A

The sight lines are among the greatest selling features of the park. There is very little in the park that is not visible from the seating bowl, and there is very little netting to obstruct the view like in so many other parks. Only the area behind home plate is covered by a net, and the 200 level is only separated from the field by a few rows of seating and a concourse. There is also a wraparound concourse that is referred to as the “Baseball Boardwalk”. There is a tiki bar type of establishment in the outfield, similar to that in Clearwater. There are also berm seating areas in the outfield.

A couple of things will not be visible, though, and this should also be taken into account. The bullpens are behind the outfield fences, and they are barely visible through the fence. A trip to the outfield area is necessary in order to see the bullpen action. The left field corner is also not visible to most of the seats on the third base side. There were very few balls hit into the left field corner – or hit at all, but more on that in a moment – but this is a concern. Finally, the concourse is completely behind the seating bowl, so remember this when going to the stands or the bathroom. This is a beautiful park, and that should be plainly obvious upon your arrival.

Parking: F

Any parking situation in which the attendant gives me instructions to “turn left at the third gravel road and park next to the closest car” is ridiculous and requires an immediate overhaul. I had to pay $4 for this privilege at a single-A park. The parking is also in the grass, which creates quite the messy situation in the aforementioned Florida rains. If you’re charging $4 for parking during the season (and at least $10 during spring training), you can afford to at least pave the lot. The parking is close to the ballpark, but that’s the only positive thing to say about it.

Quality of baseball: A+

As A-level games go, this was among the best I’ve seen. It matters not that this was a 7-inning game, or that very few were there to see it, I was quite impressed. Rays prospect Alex Colome pitched a complete game for the homestanding Stone Crabs, striking out seven, walking two and allowing one earned on three hits. Jupiter (Marlins) righthander Kyle Kaminska also threw four solid innings, allowing a lone hit, striking out five and walking three. The Hammerheads took a 1-0 lead in the fifth on a Sharif Othman double, but the Stone Crabs plated two in the bottom of the sixth, with catcher Jake Jefferies plating the eventual game-winner. Both teams were solid on defense, and there was a sense of drama throughout. Outstanding game, especially for this level.

Overall grade: C

I can’t say enough how beautiful this park is, and you are immediately stricken with the fact that this is not the average everyday minor league park. There is even a mildly amusing mascot named Stoney who wanders the concourses. The baseball was also tremendous, which made for an outstanding in-game experience.

I did not feel at all welcome as a visitor, however, and it seemed as though the fans were only there to serve as a money-making vessel for the team. The constant sound effects and lack of interest from the team staff killed a lot of the interest I had in the park, and I hope that I just caught them on a bad day. As it stands now, I get the feeling that visitors (especially one from as far away as I am, and cannot come visit every day or access the team’s website on game days) are better off going somewhere else where the team feels as though they matter.

How to get there:

Charlotte Sports Park is located in Port Charlotte, Florida. This is an hour from Tampa, an hour from Fort Myers and is, in reality, closest to Sarasota and its related beaches, though even Sarasota is a half-hour away. The park is most easily accessed by I-75 and US 41 (Tamiami Trail). If taking I-75, take exit 179 (Toledo Blade Blvd.) and follow the signs. The park is about 10 miles off the interstate on El Jobean Road. If on US 41, take a right on El Jobean (if traveling south) or a left (if traveling north). The park will be ahead on the left in the 2300 block of El Jobean. There is very little around the park, so be prepared that you will need to travel up El Jobean to Toledo Blade or Tamiami Trail to find much in terms of food, gasoline and the like.


1 Comment so far
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I understand now why you were having a tough time with this review.I know you hate to be critical,but I could feel the anger coming out over the umbrella deal.It would seem that you are unlikely to ever go back.I just wonder if anyone ever reads these and says,’perhaps we could use these comments to improve our ballpark’?

Comment by jerry wilmer

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