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Legends On Deck

Boston Red Sox Spring Training History

For a team about to begin their 103rd season in Fenway Park, the Red Sox sure have held spring training in many different places since their inception in 1901. Boston’s American League team moved to the newly opened ballpark on Yawkey Way from their previous home at the Huntington Avenue Grounds (currently a part of Northeastern University in Boston) in 1912.

However, the team held spring training in various locales in Virginia, Georgia, Arkansas, California, Texas, and Louisiana as well as three Florida cities, Tampa, Bradenton and Pensacola between 1901 and 1932, before moving to Sarasota, Florida in 1933. Except for a three year period during World War II when Medford, Massachusetts, Baltimore, Maryland and Pleasantville, New Jersey were utilized, the Red Sox trained in Sarasota until moving to Scottsdale, Arizona in time for the 1959 spring training season.

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After six springs in Arizona, Boston returned to Florida, setting up shop in Winter Haven at Chain O’Lakes Park in 1966. Winter Haven turned out to be the longest lasting spring home for the Red Sox. The Red Sox also placed a Florida State League team at the facility between 1969 and 1992, after a Mets FSL club used the stadium in 1966 and 1967. Boston’s newly formed Gulf Coast League rookie club played at the complex from 1989 until the organization’s departure in 1992 as well.

Several years after relocating to Winter Haven from Scottsdale, Boston signed a 20 year lease to train at Chain O’Lakes in 1970. Over the years, minor improvements were made and the city maintained the ballpark, but as the seasons went by, the entire complex began to fall into a state of disrepair.10922072_10153002278862937_1788886005_n

By 1985, having seen neighboring teams in Florida such as the Astros and Royals move from outdated facilities to new state-of the-art training complexes, The Red Sox asked the city of Winter Haven to make improvements to the stadium and the surrounding minor league complex.

In 1986, team officials signed a contract to train in Winter Haven through the year 2000, as long as “satisfactory improvements” were made to the entire facility. During the following winter new seats and a roof were added to the stadium in time for the 1988 spring season, but little was done to improve the minor league complex, where the organization’s young prospects trained. Drainage problems and a general lack of upkeep to the playing fields posed a danger to the players’ safety.

Red Sox officials sent a letter to the city of Winter Haven dated March 23rd, 1988, stating that the contract between the team and the city was “null and void” because the city had not “honored the obligations” stated in the contract signed in 1986. The then team counsel, the late John Donovan was later quoted as saying the minor league complex had
degenerated into a “dangerous and deplorable” condition.

After a year of talks, the Winter Haven City Commission proposed that the Red Sox commit to a new lease before the costly improvements began. In June of 1989, Boston agreed to extend the existing lease through the 1991 spring season.

Fearing a possible loss of the Red Sox to another training site however, the city approved contract talks with other major league teams. The Pittsburgh Pirates, stalled in their negotiations with Bradenton (and hoping to use a threat to move as leverage to get the improvements to McKechnie Field that they desperately needed, which eventually worked out for them) entered into exclusive contract talks with the city of Winter Haven for 90 days beginning on August 17th, 1990.

Within a month, the infuriated Red Sox notified Winter Haven that they would not return to Chain O’Lakes Park after the conclusion of the 1991 spring training season. In May of that year, after considering proposals from seven Florida cities, the Red Sox settled on Fort Myers when the city agreed to build a new stadium and minor league complex for the team.

However, the facilities in Fort Myers would not be ready until 1993, leaving the Red Sox without a spring training site for 1992. After attempting to reach an agreement to train at Tinker Field in Orlando (Minnesota’s former spring home before their move to Fort Myers in 1991), Boston finally consented to return to Winter Haven for one last spring training season while awaiting completion of their new home, City of Palms Stadium, located across town from the Twins complex.

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The biggest difference in the brand new facility to what the Red Sox were used to in Winter Haven was the fact that the minor league complex was located three miles away from the stadium as opposed to within the same parcel of land. This posed problems throughout the Red Sox stay at City of Palms Stadium.

Ten years later, the Fort Myers City Council unanimously approved transferring operation and maintenance of City of Palms Stadium to Lee County. The Red Sox then agreed to a new 15 year lease with the county to remain at City of Palms. Eventually however, after meeting with Red Sox officials the county announced in September of 2008 that if the Red Sox were to continue training in Lee County, it would not be at the existing City of Palms Park or at the minor league player development complex three miles away.

A number of options were considered including the Red Sox returning to their former spring home in Sarasota (albeit to a brand new facility), and there was also talk of a possible move to Arizona, but matters were settled when the Red Sox and Lee County agreed to build a new 77.8 million dollar training complex.

JetBlue Park, and the surrounding Fenway South Complex opened in 2012 and will be scoreboard_mainhosting it’s fourth spring training beginning next month. In addition to Boston’s major league spring training games, the Red Sox minor league players train at the facility as well and each of the organization’s six minor league affiliates play scheduled games against teams from the Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Minnesota organizations. The defending Gulf Coast League champion Red Sox rookie league team plays a 60 game schedule beginning in June.

Brian Mullen

Brian is a Boston native and art school student who took a summer job with a baseball team and never left. He has been employed by the Boston Red Sox in one capacity or another since 1982. He also follows and blogs college basketball. Follow him on Twitter @BostonBrian2015