The middle of February has always served as a time of celebration for baseball fans and players alike. Teams break out of the cold of winter and convene in paradise cities across Florida and Arizona for a month-long vacation—with a little bit of baseball sprinkled in to pass the time. For Braves players and staff, though, coming home for Spring Training has more than it’s fair share of perks, as the Atlanta spring camp annually situates itself directly in the heart of Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
The ESPN Wide World of Sports complex has served as Atlanta’s home away from home since March of 1997 and has regularly treated Braves Country to an outstanding tropical climate and a taste of the summer to come. Day in and day out, Braves players and staff gather at Champion Stadium and its surrounding fields to work on early fundamentals and ease back into mid-season form. The 9,500 capacity stadium has provided the Braves with state-of-the art facilities since its construction in ’97 and combines modern-day amenities with the intimate size of many minor league stadiums, giving fans a close looks at players in action. Among the fan favorites around Champion Stadium are the grassy berm seats down the left field line and “Heyward’s Tents” down the right field line, constructed to protect cars from the vicious shots that Heyward serves into the area.
Champion Stadium, originally referred to as Tinker field, has been home to a variety of baseball tournaments and games including some first-round games during the World Baseball Classic in 2006. The stadium has also hosted the Atlantic 10 conference tournament in 2001 and has been home to two Tampa Bay Rays series in 2007 and 2008. Nevertheless, Atlanta’s arrival in the early spring highlights the schedule for Champion Stadium, drawing the most consistent capacity crowd the stands.
Champion Stadium and Orlando, FL. caters to more than just the fans during the early months of baseball’s preseason, though. It’s no secret that the Braves have a rich history of strong golfers (see Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz) and there’s no better time to cut a few strokes from your game than the long afternoons after an early morning spring workout. Be it pitchers or position players, veterans or rookies, players routinely find it enjoyable to get onto some of the best golf courses that the state of Florida has to offer. Multiple Braves beat writers have commented recently via twitter about this year’s team showing as much interest in the Florida golf scene as any in recent history. In a charity event held by Tim Hudson earlier this week, Craig Kimbrel sank his first ever hole-in-one on a shot that David O’Brien described as being “on the fly, over a bunker and straight in.”
As March comes and goes and the Braves make their way north towards Turner Field, Champion Stadium is turned over to the Rookie-League GCL Braves for the entirety of their season, giving fans their fill of Braves baseball until the big boys return again next February.