Multiple games attended from 2000-2004
Three World Baseball Classic Games March 8th-10th 2006
March 13th 2007: Upper Reserved
March 16th 2007: Standing Room Only
March 20th 2008: Unknown
March 19th 2009: Lower Reserved
March 9th 2010: Lower Reserved
March 14th 2012: Lower Reserved
March 12th 2016: Lower Reserved
By: Cole Shoemaker
It has been said the idea to cross-market Disney World with spring training was one of the best ideas in sports in recent memory, but even the best synergies come with some caveats. Due to obvious reasons, Champion Stadium is probably the most unique ballpark concept in spring training, yet there isn’t much talk about it on the Internet among baseball fans.
It may be because baseball traditionalists brush it off because of its “disneyfied” atmosphere and on-field pomp and frills, but I have a different theory. The Braves and Disney have a significant semantic problem in terms of what baseball fans and ballpark critics interpret this experience to be.
The fact that the stadium has accumulated a record number of names indicating differing branding strategies highlights this fact: names include “Disney Field”, “Cracker Jack Stadium”, “Disney’s Wide World of Sports Park”, “The Ballpark”, and “Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex”. They finally settled on Champion Stadium.
It’s painful, but just read those in chronological order. Seriously. I can’t imagine how much more blatantly we could display a back and forth tension between Braves baseball and Disney.
And that’s exactly the point. Are fans going to (a) Disney World? Are fans going to what is now called (b) “ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex” at Disney World? Or are fans going to a damn ballgame at (c) Champion Stadium?! The signage confusion between the latter two exacerbates this sensibility for those going to the ballpark.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem. I wouldn’t mind a “disneyfied” environment if it was tastefully merged with low-key spring training baseball. The problem here is that the line between the complex and the ballpark is too blurred. The problem is the ballpark doesn’t appear to be the centerpiece of the project, but a sidetrack of Disney World.
I’m judging the ballpark, not the Disney sports complex where it’s located or the surrounding attractions of Disney World. I have to define the boundaries between ballpark, sports complex, and Disney World that were meant to be blurry. Once I do that, the picture painted of Champion Stadium becomes problematic.
When judging the entire complex, one may have nothing but high acclaim. But when judging the actual ballpark, the rules change. The main issue is that the amenities within are shockingly poor. Why? Because the amenities right outside those doors are those of Disney World, and that’s meant to be part of the experience!
Champion Stadium almost certainly has the worst concessions in all of spring training, judging by both quality and selection. I’ll go more into this later, but other than a couple of stands in the corners, it’s essentially movie theatre food. Disney just doesn’t get ballpark food. How can they possibly justify this in such a grand ballpark? Surprise. Surprise. The Sports Grill is right outside the park. They want you to spend money there.
The width of the concourses aren’t terrible, but they are more spatially constrained than they should have been, because, you guessed it, this concept is part of “Disney’s Wide World of Sports.” Inside the park, there is a shocking lack of places to sit down. No restaurants. Rudimentary premium areas. And, in a textbook definition of irony, no entertainment options or play place for kids. I guess the reasoning is why would there be at a ballpark that is at Disney World? Go outside the park and spend money at Disney World.
See what I mean? There are internal conflicts in judging this place. That within the confines of the ballpark is reduced in order to incentivize fans to spend more time at the other Disney attractions when in the area. The ballpark lacks the amenities seen in other parks because it’s a part of Disney’s sports concept and Disney World. There’s a reason you can only find the cost of the complex (9 venues, 130 million, not 100 million as often reported for the complex by the way), not the ballpark. It was meant to be a singular concept, but it is so self evidently not from a baseball fan standpoint, with a ballpark that has gates and in and out policies. You feel within and without, if you will. The lack of amenities inside Champion Stadium, along with some functional flaws, prevents it from being one of the best spring training ballparks.
And there really isn’t much to do at the actual complex anyway. Again, please don’t mistake me for characterizing some ballpark village as this complex. Other than some merchandise and sports related activities, its just more unrelated venues. But of course, other parts of Disney World are a short drive away. I suppose that is their justification.
Luckily, the blurry lines between complex and ballpark don’t matter when it comes to aesthetics. Inside and outside, Champion Stadium is one of the most aesthetically inspired ballparks in spring training. Some may claim the architecture lacks true integrity, but the imposing stucco Spanish Mission edifice is infused with some truly unique embellishments out of something like Disney Imagineering. The interior is just as nice, refreshingly free of ads on the outfield walls and adorned with the same stucco seen on the outside. The concourse design, evocative of an upscale home patio with golden light fixtures, was unprecedented in the era.
Overall, Champion Stadium is still a good place to see a ballgame because of its marvelous aesthetics. From unique “cast member” ushers and on-field entertainment Philharmonic Saxophone Quartet, to the abnormally prominent ESPN Clubhouse store anchoring the concourse system and the post game fireworks show, it’s a place you should at least experience once. So the ballpark experience certainly stands out among spring training parks.
But it will always have somewhat of an awkward feel, because more attention was paid to the pure concept of the sports complex than the quality and execution of the ballpark itself.NEXT - Setting