Fans hopefully will hit for the cycle in first full spring training season for SWFL in several years
Major League Baseball fans are calling Lee County home as their teams hold spring training at JetBlue Park and Hammond Stadium. With visitors to the area comes an economic impact for Southwest Florida.
Aside from Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins games and fan experiences, visitors are tuning into local businesses.
Gary Johnson of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, rents a home in Fort Myers to follow the Twins. The combination of the beach, golf and games has kept him coming to the area for six winters. He bought tickets for games later in the season at Monday’s team practice for the Twins.
“Probably 80 percent or more of the people are from Minnesota,” Johnson said. “So it's almost like your backup north at home. You know, everybody's rooting for the Twins, so it's kind of cool.”
50 percent of attendees say that spring training is the primary reason for their visit to the area, according to a benchmark study released in 2019.
Spring training has a substantial influence on the Lee County economy after Hurricane Ian, but it also draws fans whose visit is irregular, Lee County government Communications Specialist Timothy Engstrom said.
“Lee County continues to recover at a steady pace, with more accommodations and attractions returning regularly,” Engstrom said. “There’s still plenty for visitors to see and do in our destination.”
Spring training attendees spent $68.9 million while visiting, according to the 2019 study. Of that number, $56.7 million was spent outside the ballpark.
“I've always been more partial to downtown,” Johnson said. “I go down there quite often, being that it's so close. I support a lot of the businesses in downtown Fort Myers.”
Season ticket holder Steven Hall of Tamarac, Florida, is in Fort Myers for a few days for training practices. He met Twins players and got autographs at Monday’s fan experience at Hammond Stadium in the Lee County Sports Complex.
“[This is] probably the best spring training site as far as meeting players in Florida,” Hall said.
When visiting Lee County, Hall supports businesses like Miller’s Ale House and Jersey Mike’s Subs. Hall chose to stay at the La Quinta Inn off Cleveland Avenue.
One element that's good locally for businesses is the two teams that train in Lee County from northern climates. People from colder weather love coming down here in February or March, getting out of the cold and being around the palm trees. That helps bring fans down here.Glenn Miller, longtime SWFL sports journalist
Longtime sports journalist Glenn Miller weighed in on the potential boost in the economy. Miller has been reporting on spring training and games in Fort Myers since the mid-1970s.
“One element that's good locally for businesses is the two teams that train in Lee County from northern climates,” Miller said. “People from colder weather love coming down here in February or March, getting out of the cold and being around the palm trees. That helps bring fans down here.”
Miller noted that this year marks the first full spring training with a full slate of games for the first time in four years. COVID-19 curbed spring training and closed the facilities for fans in the spring of 2020. The following year had limited seating capacity, and in 2022, a player lockout meant fewer games.
After Hurricane Ian, Miller feels relieved to know that fans can enjoy the experience after events from past years. While the Lee County stadiums sustained the storm with minor damage, Port Charlotte facilities are in need of repairs, moving the Tampa Bay Rays to Tropicana Field in St. Pete and Disney World in Orlando.
“I think [spring training] brings a lot of fun, a lot of fan interaction with the players, great baseball and a lot of things for the kids to do,” Hall said. “And just a terrific atmosphere. I can't complain at all. It's wonderful.”
Hotel availability in Lee County stands at 9,726 rooms or 68 percent of inventory as of Feb. 3 as the industry recovers from hurricane-related damages. Aside from hotels and lodging, spring training attendees spend their money on food, ground transportation and liquor purchases, according to the study.
The Minnesota Twins have held their spring training at Hammond Stadium since 1991. The Minor League team, Mighty Mussels, takes over after the Twins season begins in April.
The Boston Red Sox stays at JetBlue park, a $78 million site constructed in 2012, for their training.
Games begin on Friday, Feb. 25.
For full schedules for both teams, visit www.mlb.com
This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at email@example.com