- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2010

For one month every year, the focus of the legion of Red Sox fans turns south to Fort Myers, at City of Palms Park in the Gulf Coast city.

While Boston plans just one more season in their current spring park, the team will remain nearby at a new facility — complete with a replica of the famous Green Monster. But for this year and next, City of Palms Park is where the self-proclaimed “Red Sox Nation” takes up residence in the month of March.

City of Palms Park is only 18 years old, but one of the reasons for the move to a new facility is the popularity of tickets to see the Red Sox, as the 7,700 seats for each home spring game — regardless of opponent — are snapped up quickly by fans — many of which are making the trek south from New England to see the latest edition of the squad.

The team also wants to have a more complete complex, as the stadium is located in a semi-residential neighborhood away from the more pricey waterfront without the bells and whistles some other team’s parks have. Combine that with the several Florida cities looking to land the big-ticket spring club, the city of Fort Myers opted to construct a new park that looks like Boston’s regular-season home — with a touch of Florida.

Of course, the current home certainly has a Florida flavor as well, with tall palm trees lining the outfield fences and even a general-admission grassy patch down the first-base line that fills up quickly. Like many spring parks, the stadium features permanent seats behind home and wrapping around the bases, while further down the first base side is the metal bleachers and grassy patch — along with some seats beyond the outfield wall.

With a strong connection to the team since the Red Sox have been in town since 1992 when they moved down from Winter Haven, there are usually a contingent of former Red Sox players that make the visit down, most notably Johnny Pesky, who can be found signing autographs near the Red Sox dugout on the third base side on several occasions.

The biggest drawback for City of Palms Park as opposed to other Grapefruit League venues — with the Yankees’ Legends Field in Tampa being the other notable exception — are the large crowds that take away a bit of the spring charm for autograph seekers and the relaxed atmosphere present in March. Unlike other parks, tickets are tough to get — particularly when New York comes to town — and signatures or trying to land a baseball is a lot more tricky than other more relaxed venue in the circuit.

Fort Myers does also allow some other options for checking out other stadiums. The Twins play just seven miles south of City of Palms Park at Hammond Stadium, and the Rays train 35 miles north of Fort Myers in Port Charlotte. Naples, which sits 35 miles south of Fort Myers, is also actively trying to land a club, most recently making overtures to the Chicago Cubs.

With the Red Sox’s popularity, it also makes hotels and flights a bit trickier than other spring sites, with an airport in Fort Myers, but also a two-hour drive south from Tampa, or just over two hours down Alligator Alley from Miami or Fort Lauderdale.

But City of Palms park is certainly one of the more unique venues in the spring circuit, and fans looking to check it out will have to hurry before the Sox move after next March’s action.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

If you go:

Nearby airports:

Fort Myers

Local cities of interest:

Fort Myers, Naples (35 miles south)

City of Palms Park is located at the corner of Edison Ave. and Broadway in Fort Myers, Fla., west of Interstate 75

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