Twins start construction on spring training upgrades
On Thursday, the Twins began construction on updating their spring campus.
David Dorsey of the News Press highlights the progress of the Lee County Sports Complex:
“The Twins and county are co-funding a new minor league player academy. The county will pay for construction of a 200-seat theater and dining area, and the Twins will foot the bill for 54 player rooms and four coach rooms.
By mid-February, the player academy, minus the dormitory rooms, will be complete. The current minor league headquarters will be renovated with more offices, a new training room, an expanded clubhouse and a new hydrotherapy treatment room.
To the west of the player academy, the current water retention pond will be filled and become a fourth baseball field facing southwest with a new water retention pond behind it. The Gulf Coast League Twins will use that field for their regular season, which will give Lee County an additional field for summer baseball tournaments.”
The addition of the minor league player academy is a solid investment for the team’s future. As other organizations either add on to their existing spring training facilities or built new ones altogether, Hammond Stadium and the Lee County Sports Complex were falling behind the times. For example, while Boston’s recently completed Jet Blue Stadium complex had seven complete fields the Lee County Sports Complex had just five. When Jet Blue opened the fields along with their state-of-the-art training facilities, it was deemed as a significant “competitive advantage” for the team’s player development system by Boston’s COO Sam Kennedy.
Furthermore, with the game’s continued international growth, the new on-site dormitories should give foreign-born players an easier transition into the new culture and game rather than having to live away from the training area. The Pirates, who train up the gulf coast in Bradenton, completed a similar project at their famed training site, Pirate City. Renovated in 2008, Pittsburgh’s on-site dormitories have 75 player rooms and make it mandatory for all players in Minor League camp to live in one of the dorm rooms.
Meanwhile Hammond Stadium, the home of both the Twins and Fort Myers Miracle, is also getting a much needed face lift.
The Twins have also requested that the field’s dimensions be changed to match the geometry of Target Field – which means large power alleys and a few more feet added to the left-center field area. This should help the evaluation process and prepare the players better for the conditions experienced at the major league level rather than watching towering flies that would normally be caught drift over the outfield wall.
Overall, the expansion focuses on the on-field product however there is plenty that will elevate the game day experience for the legions of fans who make the trip to southwest Florida. Beyond the outfield walls, the Twins plan to add a right field party deck (rendering below) as well as a boardwalk that circles the field, similar to the one that the Pirates constructed at their Bradenton, Florida facilities. Likewise, the metal bleachers will be converted to conventional seat-backs. In all, the stadium will increase capacity to 9,300, which is still several thousand less the Red Sox and the new Cubs’ spring training home.
The current configuration of Hammond has a significant stair climb to the main concourse level. During much of spring training, this area has been highly congested because of the small walkways made even smaller with concession stands and a popular retail shop. The expansion plans, Dorsey writes, will eliminate the gift shop and open up a view of the field for those arriving up the flight of stairs. Additional restrooms will be installed and concession areas will be expanded to accommodate for the increasing spring crowds.
While a substantial portion of the bill is being paid by Lee County, for the new improvements the Twins will have the Red Sox to thank. Based on a clause in their 2004 lease agreement, the talks of expanding the Lee County Sports Complex and Hammond Stadium began when the Boston Red Sox relocated from City of Palms Park to Jet Blue Stadium. As accordance to the agreement between Lee County and the Minnesota Twins, the club had the right to request and construct improvements that have been “approved or constructed by the County in any other spring training facility to which the County is an owner or lessor” as is the case with Jet Blue Stadium.
The entire project should be completed by 2015.