Braves open new spring digs at CoolToday Park

March 24th, 2019

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Hank Aaron shared a pregame conversation with Freddie Freeman. Terry Pendleton delivered the ceremonial first pitch and Bobby Cox exclaimed, “Play ball!” before the Braves opened their new Spring Training home with a 4-2 win over the Rays on Sunday afternoon at CoolToday Park.

“Those are the things that put you back in place and humble you even more,” Freeman said. “The all-time greats come back because they love the team so much.”

The final game of the Florida portion of this year’s Braves Spring Training schedule had a celebratory feel for the team and the residents of North Port, who can take pride in this newly constructed state-of-the-art facility that will provide the Braves many of the comforts that didn’t exist at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, the Disney facility that had served as their spring home since 1998.

“I heard about this being the best [Spring Training facility] in Florida, and it exceeded every expectation,” said Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who visited the stadium for the first time Sunday. “It’s beautiful. The clubhouses, the lounges, the offices and the work space is just fantastic. You can tell with the players. There’s a lot of smiles right now.”

There was certainly a sense of familiarity as the Braves’ facility feels much more like a home than a space they rented from Disney. The walls of the stadium are adorned with murals of some Braves legends -- Dale Murphy, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Chipper Jones, Pendleton and Aaron. The front of the stadium is decorated with statues honoring each of the franchise’s players who have had their number retired.

When team executives took Aaron to see his No. 44 statue, they pointed out they reserved the most visible spot for the franchise’s best player. The witty 85-year-old legend smiled and said, “Who is that?”

This Spring Training facility is far different than anything Aaron or even Freeman ever experienced. The Braves’ former Disney facility included a small clubhouse and the gym spilled out into the hallways, where exercise bikes and other workout equipment were temporarily situated during Spring Training.

Atlanta's new facility includes a beautiful, spacious clubhouse, multiple meeting rooms and a multi-level weight room that in itself is nearly two times the size of the Disney clubhouse. Adding to the conveniences is the fact the indoor batting cages and bullpen are located directly outside different clubhouse doors.

“It’s amazing, it really is,” Freeman said. “It’s nice not having to walk a mile to get to the clubhouse like we did at Disney. Everything is so close together. We’ll be able to get our work done more efficiently. They’ve placed such an attention to detail, and that is going to make us even better during the seasons.”

Another benefit is the Braves will no longer have to routinely make long trips down the Florida Turnpike or endure the traffic-related stress so often felt when traveling central Florida’s I-4 corridor.

Once the Astros and Nationals moved to West Palm Beach, the Braves had just one team (Tigers) located less than an hour away. With the move into their new facility next spring, they will have five teams (Red Sox, Twins, Rays, Orioles and Pirates) located within an hour, and four others (Yankees, Phillies, Tigers and Blue Jays) within two hours.

“It’s going to be really, really nice for us because we’re used to getting on a bus when it’s dark and getting home when it’s dark,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Everything about this place is going to be great.”