First Data Field – New York Mets Spring Training
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A Break with Tradition
Over 30-years-ago, the New York Mets opened Spring Training at the new Thomas J. White Stadium, named for the real estate developer that lured in the ball club to town. The stadium would change names to Tradition Field in 2004, and in 2017, the Mets inked a last-minute naming deal with payment transaction firm First Data, and the newly christened “First Data Field” welcomed its first visitors that same year.
While First Data Field is also the home of the Single-A St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League and the Rookie-League Gulf Coast Mets (not to mention some Florida state high-school baseball tournaments), it gets most of its visitors as a Spring Training venue for the parent MLB club. Major renovation plan battles raged between the city and the club for several years, but $50 million in major renovations have finally been approved and planned for completion before 2021. Time will tell what the renovations will bring, but currently, First Data Field is a definite middle-of-the-pack entry in the Grapefruit League. Despite some meager community surroundings, the 7,160-seat park remains a solid spring venue at an excellent value for fans.
Food & Beverage 3
As with most categories, the Mets cover all the bases with food and drink but don’t hit anything out of the park. All the main concessions serve modified versions of the same menu, with locations in the center field berm, and on the outer walkway by first base, home plate, and third base. Your ballpark basics are covered with hot dogs ($4.75), burgers (w/fries, $9), and cheeseburgers (w/fries, $9.50). There are even knishes ($4.50) if you want a nosh. The Ulti-Met Grill (get it?) in the outer walkway by third base freshly grills burgers ($9), foot-long hot dogs ($7.50), chicken sandwiches ($10), and Italian sausages or brats ($9.50), all with chips. Further down the third base walkway is the ever-popular taco-in-a-helmet stand ($7.50, chicken or beef). Frank & Al’s Pizza by home plate dishes out $6.50 slices, while Smokehouse BBQ on the first base side delivers $8 pulled pork sandwiches.
The epicenters for drinking are the Tiki Bar in left field and Mulligan’s Beach House in right, which offer alternatives from the $8 24-oz. souvenir Bud and Bud Light at the regular concession stands. The two locations offer $8 tropical mixed drinks ($13 for a double), $16 Malibu buckets of rum punch, and $7 domestic 16-oz. beers. The Blue Point stand out in the right field plaza has the widest beer options, with $8 craft beers (Bud, Shocktop, Landshark. Michelob, Blue Point, and Goose Island). Coke rules the Mets roost, with $6.50 for a souvenir drink and $5 for a regular. Water and Powerade are offered for $4 to $4.50.
For atmosphere’s sake, you might as well grab the strangely popular rum punch buckets ($16), taco in a helmet ($7.50) or an Ulti-Met cheeseburger ($9.50), and then sprawl out on the berm with the transplanted 7-Line Army for some afternoon baseball. Live a little.
First Data Field is not the newest of parks in the Grapefruit League, nor does it have the historic pedigree of some of its brethren, but the facility is regularly renovated and still remains a solid entry and a good place to take in a game. The entrances all lead up to the main walkways outside and inside the seating area. Both walkways meet at the start of the outfield, but neither circles the entire park. Left field ends in a large patio area, and right field exits into the picnic berm in right-center. The walkway in the seating bowl separates the lower and upper seats. At the top of the upper seats behind home plate sits the press box, luxury boxes, and party decks. Bullpens lie in the respective outfield corners in foul territory (the Mets are in the left field), and the video scoreboard peers down from left-center to keep you up-to-date on the game.
Fans looking to see the most of the home team should acquire seats behind their third base dugout and get there when the gates open an hour and a half before game time. Autograph seekers can also camp out up to a half hour before first pitch when guests must go to their ticketed seats. The recently renovated practice fields are just behind the park, letting fans (and especially autograph seekers) a closer look at the players. The entrance (down the sidewalk from the A-Gate entrance) can be hard to find, but just turn left and follow the sidewalk until you see the signs and gate. But get there early, the practice fields close off about two hours before the start of the scheduled game.
Mr. Met is sadly one of the few mascots that don’t make the trip to Florida. Even his tropical-shirt-wearing minor league doppelganger doesn’t make appearances, though the other Mets minor league mascots occasionally show their faces. Standard minor league entertainment of contests and tests of skill are scattered throughout the inning breaks. Where you sit all comes down to how much you like the big Florida sun. If you’d rather not fry, get one of the seats in the aptly named “Covered Seating.” If you want to sit as close to your MLB heroes as possible, grab a Lower Reserve seat on the third base side. If you’re there just for the sun, get a cheapo berm seat and lie out in the sun with the rowdy 7 Line Army.
When it first opened, players and press sarcastically called their new home “Port St. Lonely,” and while the city is one of the ten biggest in Florida now, it isn’t a quite the metropolis just yet. All the other regional attractions, including the beach, are about a half-hour to the east. Standard suburban strip mall amenities are available a short drive south, and golfers will turn their heads at the 54-hole PGA Village complex just west of the park, but other than that, there just isn’t a lot to recommend in the immediate area, except perhaps Superplay USA, a boardwalk-style amusement center with bowling, batting cages, laser tag, and a restaurant that can be some family fun.
There’s a wide variety of chain restaurants and bars on the nearby main drag of Port St. Lucie West, with some local standouts such as Tutto Fresco, Sam Snead’s Tavern, West End Grill, and Roy’s Sushi. Otherwise, take the drive to the beach or downtown for many more options.
New York sports fans are known for their passion and knowledge (or loudmouthed blabbering, depending who you ask), so it is not surprising that the Mets’ Spring Training crowds are no different, but they aren’t as numerous as their passion might suggest. Even with their recent success, the Mets sit solidly in the middle of Grapefruit League attendance. The crowd is mostly families, and they are New Yorkers looking for a break from winter, or former New Yorkers who have moved down south to permanently flee winter’s cold tyranny. However, the fans in attendance are generally more knowledgeable than the average Spring Training customer. How seriously they take the game often depends on the opponent, but it is mostly watching a game in Citi Field writ small, for better or worse. Even the bleacher dwelling 7 Line Army marches down with summer-themed shirts, taking over the cheap seats on the center field picnic berm.
The park is located right off of I-95 and just under five minutes west of the Florida Turnpike. The signage needs work, but in these days of GPS devices, it is less of an issue. First Data Field is just about an hour north of West Palm Beach International Airport and an hour and a half from Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. As with most of Florida, driving is mostly your only option, as the local bus and train services won’t be of much assistance.
Parking is a league average $10 in grass lots around the park. Recent re-alignments of the parking situation make this a better experience than in the past, and attendants dutifully direct traffic on the way out, making for a more orderly exit.
There’s no particular benefit to entering at either Gate A or B, or the handicapped/suite entrance elevator right by the ticket booth. League mandated metal detectors adds to the wait to get in when the gates open, so wait a bit to go in or line up a little early to avoid delays. Keep your eyes out for new lanes that will open up only when the gates do to cut some time off your wait on busy days.
Inside the park, a large concourse extends from the edge of left field by the party deck all around to the berm picnic area in right center. You can walk all around without missing any of the game, but (with the exception of the concessions in the outfield) all the food stands are located on an outside walkway and not the concourse, meaning you’ll need to miss some of the game if you don’t get your grub before the game or between innings. Concession lines get long during the game, so plan your trips or stock up before you sit down. Long rows of seats and few aisles mean that getting in and out can be congested, especially at the end of the game.
Return on Investment 4
Besides seeing your favorite MLB players in essentially a more personal, minor league environment, one of the main benefits of Spring Training (especially for big-market teams) is being able to see your favorite players close-up and affordable. The Mets are one of the better teams in this regard, with a field-level seat going for the price of a meal at the park up north. Though the ticket prices are still creeping upwards, they still remain a bargain. The two-tier pricing of “Blue” (weekday) and “Orange” (weekend and weeknight) covers Premiere Box (home plate, $35-$40), Bullpen Reserve (outfield level, $30-$35), Lower Reserve (field level, $30-$35), Upper Reserve (second deck field level with or without cover, $25-$30), and berm (right field picnic hill, $15-$25). All tickets are an additional $2 if purchased game day. “Orange” premier games can sell out, so you’re better off buying ahead.
Parking and programs are around the league average at $10 and $5, respectively. All food and most of the drinks (except for the mix drink doubles and the rum punch buckets) are $10 and under, less than the price of the average beer at Citi Field, making an affordable day of spring baseball. In addition, the Mets offer “Amazin’ Getaways” on their team website, providing several different price-point package deals for discounted travel and games.
The $5 program now comes with a cover choice of team colors (blue or orange). The main team store is accessible outside the main entrance (along with a separate merchandise van), in addition to two smaller locations are inside the stadium itself. Lines can be long and slow, so get there early for hassle-free shopping.
Championship banners for the parent club, as well as the minor league affiliates that call First Data Field home, are just inside the back gate, as well as right below the press box, flanking the team’s retired numbers (14 – Hodges, 31 – Piazza, 37 – Stengel, 41 – Seaver, 42 – Robinson).
A monument to 9/11 is located in a mini-park across the street from the main entrance, along with a slew of smaller memorials to milestones of park construction and renovation and late staff members of the Mets organization (Joe McShane, Andy Kaplan, and George McClelland). The main entrance plaza is dedicated to previous namesake and field builder, Thomas White. A “To the Majors” section on the first base walkway to celebrate players who made it to the bigs from the low-minors teams at First Data Field. And all the roads out in the practice fields honor Mets greats (Tom Seaver Curve, Willie Mays Drive, etc.).
Though not the newest or the nicest of the Spring Training venues, Mets fans can get their closest encounters with their big-league heroes at First Data Field for a reasonable price, at a decent venue that has all the basics covered.
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