Doing the Disney vacation thing with my wife and son for the last 10 days, I had a chance to escape the theme parks a few days to catch some Grapefruit League games. The Braves hold their ST at the ESPN Wide World of Sports facility on the Disney campus and we were there for the last three games of their Spring. Champion Stadium is an attractive Spanish style place with comfortable seating and nice sight lines from everywhere I walked.
View from my seat on the 1B upper deck:
View from my LF SRO spot:
Down the right field line, there is a view over the home bullpen that is not unlike what you can get from the CF standing room at OPACY. Here's Braves starter Brandon Beachy warming up there:
But a really cool feature is that the visitors' bullpen is cut out of the lawn seating down the left field line. So you can stand by the fence and be just about five feet off the plate and four feet elevated above the bullpen catcher. Even at that distance, the pop of somebody bringing a 90s fastball is a little scary. It gave me a better appreciation for standing in at the MLB level. You can also look through the fence behind the pitcher and see them adjust grips inside their glove.
I saw Braves v. Tigers the first time and the game was the epitome of ST doldrums. Tigers prospect Adam Wilk was touched for 4 runs in the first 2 innings, including 3 in the first three batters, thanks to 2 singles and a Chipper Jones HR. Brandon Beachy delivered the most vanilla 6 scoreless I've ever seen. There was nothing about him that looked special, but he changed speeds between 78 and 88 and located. That was all it took to keep Magglio, Cabrera and V-Mart down.
In the late innings it turned into black comedy, with the remaining scoring of the 5-3 Braves win coming on hit batters, wild pitches and errors. At the center of the farce was the Artist Formerly Known as Flat Breezy. In Atlanta, Sherrill is bending the brim of his cap and apparently the flat brim was the source of his power. Giving up 2 runs on 2 hits, a walk and two wild pitches, our boy George looked sad, sad, sad.
There was some excitement in the place when I went back for Braves v. Phillies. For good reason, Philly Fever is running really high and the park was packed to overflowing with red-jerseyed fans. When the home organist tried to play the charge song, it was na-na-Na-NA-na-NA! [Dead Silence]. When Ryan Howard tagged a no-doubter onto the left-centerfield berm, the place went crazy. Halladay was starting for Philadelphia and was totally in control, holding the Braves to 1 run over 5 innings. Final: Philles 6, Braves 1. My last game opportunity, v. Nationals, rained out.
One tip, if you go to this facility, drive yourself and park near the lot exits. While Disney is usually good at moving crowds of people and has reliable buses to everything else, it took 1 to 1.5 hours to get out of this place by bus. Note to park designers: If you going to cram nearly 11K folks into a 9500 capacity stadium, have several youth league events going on the back fields and have the whole thing let out at once, you need more than 2 lanes of outgoing traffic.
The bigger problem here is how 'Disney-fied' the baseball experience is. They have corny theme music for every walk, hit batter, K or anything else. Cheesy sound effects go with every foul ball. Opposing team outs are followed by Pac-Man game-over noises. It's amusing for half an inning and goes on the whole nine. Between innings, they have a video crew doing lame game show things in the stands. A visual flavor:
Austin Jackson and his pal, Mickey:
"The often-imitated, never-replicated, Atlanta Braves Philharmonic Saxophone Quartet"
And of course:
Sorry if you had to rinse after that last one.
My bottom line on all this tarting up is that a casual fan probably has a good time here. If you are going to Disney for other reasons and just need a baseball fix, like I did, it's an acceptable price to pay for that. But if you are in FL for a hard-core baseball geek Spring Training tour, this is probably a stop you want to leave off the list. It will ruin the vibe.