- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2010

Space Coast Stadium, which has been the spring home of the Nationals since the franchise relocated from Montreal in 2005, is a bit of an outpost of the Grapefruit League.

And, like an outpost, what was a fairly barren landscape in Viera, Fla., when the park was finished in 1993 — and even when Expos moved north in 2003 and then transformed into the Nationals — the surrounding area has finally developed into more shopping and hotels for fans looking to catch a few games in March. While for years fans looking to head to Viera had to drive in from nearby Cocoa Beach or even Orlando to check out a game, there are more options now closer to the park with the development of the surroundings.

The stadium sits not far off Interstate 95, 77 miles north of the Mets’ spring home in Port St. Lucie and 53 miles east of the Astros’ spring home in Kissimmee.

And, being in the shadow of Kennedy Space Center, the NASA theme is ingrained into the park.

In front of the park is a statue of the Space Shuttle, and both foul poles have been adorned with the names of the Columbia and Challenger as memorials to the crews lost in those tragedies.

Inside the park, the seats were recently refurbished, as the teal seats installed to match the park’s former spring tenant were removed three years ago and replaced with red and blue seats to reflect the Nationals’ colors.

But at a capacity of 8,100 with tickets available on the grass in the outfield for certain contests, Space Coast offers good sightlines for fans making the trek, and a chance to get close to the players — particularly before the contest when the team allows autograph seekers down in the photo wells next to the two dugouts.

With its location, the Nationals have a tougher time drawing than some of the other venues, finishing just ahead of the Astros for lowest in the Grapefruit League last year with 3,868 per game. However, this year, the Nats got a boost with three home starts by top pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg, who drew large crowds for his performances with the big club. But tickets are readily available, although crowds tend to be better when the Mets or Cardinals make their visits to Viera.

Nationals fans can also make the area their base camp and still have access to several other Grapefruit League parks within a 90-minute drive. Kissimmee, Orlando — home of the Braves — and Port St. Lucie are the closest teams to Viera and regular stops for Washington’s spring road schedule. Vero Beach, which sits 45 minutes south of Space Coast Stadium, was the spring home of the Dodgers, and is actively looking to lure another club to the historic Dodgertown facility.

Fans wanting to stay near the park can stay in Melbourne itself, but also can stay by the shore in Cocoa Beach which is 30 minutes away. Other fans can opt to make the hour drive from Orlando along the Beachline Expressway, which is a fairly easy ride. Fans can also opt to fly into Melbourne, but flights are cheaper and more available into Orlando, although Jacksonville is a further option for those who don’t mind driving two hours south.

For the adventurous, you can drive from Washington down to Viera in about 14 hours, just taking a straight shot south on Interstate 95.

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If you go:

Nearby airports:

Melbourne (20 miles south), Orlando (45 miles west)

Local cities of interest:

Cocoa Beach (15 miles east), Orlando (45 miles west)

Space Coast Stadium is located near Interstate 95, between Exits 191 and 195 in Viera, Fla.

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