For Florida, spring officially begins in February. This has nothing to do with weather (though it does play its part), but rather the start of Major League Baseball’s spring training. A tradition more than 100 years in the making, players—and fans—have been flocking to stadiums and facilities throughout the Sunshine State in late February and on through March in preparation of the grueling 162-game MLB season. For those lucky enough to call Palm Beach County home, Roger Dean Stadium‘s facilities in Jupiter’s Abacoa accommodates two Major League squads, the Miami Marlins, and the darling of the MLB, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Both teams will have all players reported by February 24, with the Marlins’ first workouts beginning the same day and the Cardinals’ following on the 25th. Rosters balloon during spring training, with the teams’ minor league and 40-man rosters from 2014 converging to prepare for the regular season, with prospects trying to make their mark to earn a spot in the bigs. Before and during games, position players and pitchers fill the auxiliary fields for workouts and practices, which speaks to the beauty of spring training. This offers a proximity not found in any other sport, with fans having an opportunity to interact and observe players either at the practice/auxiliary fields, or during the games in Roger Dean Stadium. With a capacity that just tops 6,800, the stadium offers an intimate setting for a ballgame, putting the fans right up against the action (this is especially apparent at Florida State League games, where attendance is but a fraction of spring training’s numbers, and some good old fashion heckling can be heard throughout the stands).
Normally when it comes to spring training in Palm Beach County, Jupiter transforms into a sea of red as Cardinals’ fans take to the facilities and streets of Abacoa. St. Louis has long touted the “best fans in baseball” moniker, supporting their team during good and bad seasons, understanding the fine subtleties of the game, all while being well versed in the team’s roster, from the starting core to the hottest prospect moving his way through the minor leagues. And they travel well, not just for games, but in the case of spring training, practice as well. And with the team’s recent successes—2013 World Champs and 2014 Divisional winners, losing to eventual World Series winners the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series—hopes and spirits are high for the Red Bird followers, so expect nearly every seat at Roger Dean to be sold-out come Cardinals’ exhibition games. As for offseason movement, the Cardinals have a pretty solid team returning from 2014, so there was not a huge priority to make a splash. However, the trade for Gold Glove rightfielder Jason Heyward could be a difference maker.
Marlins’ catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, at bat during the March 15, 2014 game against the Washington Nationals.
Photo courtesy of Roger Dean Stadium
And though the Cardinals get plenty of love come spring training, it’s the home team, the Miami Marlins, that Florida baseball fans should really keep an eye on. The historically stingy franchise made headlines this offseason when they penned the richest contract in professional sport’s history when they signed Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million deal. When pairing this monumental deal with other offseason signings—second baseman Dee Gordon, a Florida native; starting pitcher Mat Latos, perhaps one of the most underrated starters in the National League, who the Marlins got for a song; and leftfield slugger Michael Morse, another Florida native—and a young, hungry squad from 2014—if pithing ace Jose Fernandez can reclaim some of the fire he showed before undergoing Tommy John’s surgery early last season, the Marlins have a potential Cy Young on their hands—2015 might be the first time the Marlins can pull out a winning season since moving into their magnificent stadium in Little Havana. And it seems that for the first time since taking over the Marlins in 2002, owner Jeffrey Loria has a rooting interest, not just in a winning team but for the beleaguered fan base he has taken for granted.
Now, if one were so inclined to head out to the ball park to catch a game, there are a few things to know before you go:
The beauty of the duel-use stadium is line up of games—one every day from March 2 through April 4. However, tickets can be tight for Cardinals’ games, with so many traveling fans snatching up some of the best seats well before players report. And while there are usually plenty of Marlins’ tickets to go around, certain visiting teams tend to draw transient South Florida snowbird crowds (the New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves all draw well). On top of all this, nearly every game is scheduled for 1:05 p.m., smack dab in the middle of that pesky 9-to-5 schedule, so some fancy footwork is in order.
On Friday, March 20, the Marlins will host the Braves at 7:05 p.m., Jupiter’s only evening game this Spring Training. If you want tickets, get them now, here.
- As for weekend games, there are plenty to choose from, though these are also at a premium, so order soon. For the Marlins’ complete schedule, click here; for the Cardinals, click here.
- For baseball fans that love a great bite, then the March 13 game of the Marlins vs. Cardinals is the game for you. A standard 1:05 p.m. game, following the sporting exploits, Abacoa will be taken over by roaving kitchens for the monthly Food Truck Invasion. More than 20 food trucks will be setting up mobile dining rooms throughout Abacoa’s Town Center – it’s a great, delicious time, and sure to be one heck of a party this upcoming Friday the Thirteenth.
- Expect hard-to-find parking, especially for sell-out games. There are large fields for parking just northwest of the stadium as well as a parking garage. Get there an hour and a half early to beat the traffic and see the teams warm up on the auxiliary fields. Parking costs $10 per day in the parking lots around the stadium. Spillover parking will be available at Florida Atlantic University.
- Bring cash! You will not only need it for parking, but if you want to purchase a refreshment or Cracker Jacks from a roaming vendor in the stands, it is a necessity.
- Wear a hat and bring sunscreen for sun protection.
When the game comes to an end, don’t run to the car just in time for rush-hour traffic. Instead, head to the one of Abacoa’s watering holes; JJ Muggs Stadium Grill, Jumby Bay and Das Biergarten all swell with boisterous post-game fans, just in time for happy hour.
And since nothing goes better with baseball then a beer, my official suggestion is Das Biergarten, an enclave of all things craft brew and traditional German tavern food. Equipped with 26 taps that rotate regularly, and a wide selection of bottled bevvies, the collection of craft suds is second to none in Northern Palm Beach County. And while peeps come for the brew, they stay for the food. The menu changes often, with inventive and delicious items finding their way to plates on the regular (Reuben and Philly egg rolls anyone?), but you can never, ever go wrong with brats and potato pancakes—this is where you will find me after the games.
If you’re in the mood for a taste of the home team, try a bite at the Cuban joint, CopaCabana, on Main Street. They serve one heck of a Cuban sandwich (lunch menu, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.), while the fricasé de pollo is out of this world, and you can’t go wrong with a mojito.
Florida State League
When spring training ends at the beginning of April, the Florida State League starts up with resident teams the Palm Beach Cardinals and Jupiter Hammerheads, the Cardinals and Marlins’ Class-A Advanced farm teams. The majority of the games are in the evening and are a blast to attend.
- For the Cardinals’ complete schedule, click here.
- For the Hammerheads’ complete schedule, click here.