Below is a lightly edited excerpt from our feature rating and ranking spring training ballparks. This is not intended as one of our multi-page, in-depth reviews, but rather a quick overview. A large Photo Gallery is also near the bottom of the page.
February 23rd 2020: Coors Light Batters Box; Terrace Club
By: Cole Shoemaker
In the post-Ted Turner era, the Atlanta Braves organization has been characterized by a competent but bland professionalism, and I’ve always seen that in their ballparks.
From a functional point of view, the ballpark operations are often firing on all cylinders, but the amenities and design range from pastiche at best to direct mimicry at worst. The Braves stick to what works and what people already like.
When Truist Park (2017) opened in Atlanta, the team was pretty open that their new park cobbled together elements from Denver, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis.
We see more of that copying and pasting at CoolToday Park, taking the outfield grandstand reminiscent of Bradenton’s LECOM Park (Pirates), the sleek clubhouse beyond right field echoing Charlotte Sports Park (Rays), the mezzanine terraces similar to Surprise Stadium (Rangers and Royals), the tiki bars of many other Grapefruit League parks, and the 360-degree concourses from all around spring training.
I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. Parks should be encouraged to incorporate and improve upon innovative functional elements and fan-friendly amenities from other parks.
Pastiche only becomes an issue because you’re not going to have an innovative architectural design or an original aesthetic vision, something central to the greatest MLB ballparks.
So, the Braves’ new spring training pad ultimately does echo its regular season home by failing to break any new architectural and aesthetic ground, but that’s just not the same kind of deal breaker in spring training.
With these smaller spring facilities, there simply isn’t as much emphasis or differentiation between parks on aesthetics (with a few exceptions, notably the three outstanding Arizona ballparks), so CoolToday Park’s merely respectable aesthetics don’t translate to a merely respectable ballpark.
Everything else is world class. CoolToday Park is exceptionally functional, all framed around memorable local flares reflecting the Atlanta Braves’ history, while possessing some of the most thoughtful and impressive fan-friendly amenities in Florida spring training. Think of it as a park that does everything Spectrum Field does and puts it on steroids.
It all pretty clearly adds up to the best ballpark experience in the Grapefruit League, even if it falls slightly short of the truly outstanding Cactus League parks in Glendale, Mesa, and Scottsdale (Salt River Fields).
Fans who loved Disney World may not be pleased, but the North Port location is a plus for all parties.
Ideally positioned in close proximity to spring training sites of the Red Sox, Twins, Rays, Orioles, and Pirates, the Braves’ new setting is an upgrade even if it does look like it’s in the middle of nowhere today. Long bus rides from Disney World to the coasts meant stars rarely traveled for road games. That will no longer be an issue.
An ambitious mixed-use development community has been planned around the ballpark. Spearheaded by the city of North Port and the West Villages, among others, development could amount to 25,000 homes and 3 million square feet of entertainment, retail, and office space.
Traffic headaches currently bring down the location/access score a bit, but that is being sorted out.
In line with the Braves’ philosophy surrounding Truist Park and larger ballpark trends of the late 2010s, CoolToday Park appears to have few architectural and aesthetic ambitions on the outside. A far cry from the Italian columns and Etruscan tiles of Disney’s Champion Stadium, CoolToday Park’s exterior architecture looks solely functional, exemplified by the large team store behind home plate.
Form follows function in a building with gray stonework, blue glass, and unadulterated concrete. The façade is new and spiffy and at least matches the Braves’ colors, but there’s no larger aesthetic vision here. Independent of the team branding we discuss below (I’m talking about architectural materials and stylization here), CoolToday looks like it could be any bland township community center from the outside. The newness helps, but I don’t see it aging particularly well.
CoolToday Park’s interior aesthetics are much better, other than the weird assemblage of color tones (clashing beige and yellow) on the press box/luxury suites. I like that CoolToday went away from the generic continuous outfield berm, instead confining it to the left field side. This allows the Braves to emulate Truist Park’s distinct dimensions and include the wide plaza in right field. Views of the greenery are particularly nice above left field. I also love how the ads on the outfield walls blend in with the overall look.
The fit and finish of the main concourse aesthetics is a cut above many other spring parks. Instead of the usual exposed pipes and plaster, the concourse’s ceiling is covered with what look like wood panels. There are some nice, strategically positioned views from the concourses, too.
In the aggregate, I have the aesthetics as average to above-average (stronger inside than outside), but not what you would expect from a new park in 2019-2020.
The highlight of CoolToday Park’s design is the numerous Atlanta Braves touches that celebrate the club’s rich history. There is a retired number monument plaza (pictured above) on the outside behind home plate. Most notably, 8 40-foot-tall murals of Braves’ legends such as Maddux, Glavine, and Aaron adorn the exterior facades. Famous quotes attributed to Atlanta players are cycled throughout the concourse. Other historical murals are littered throughout the concourses. Note signage and emblems have a Braves’ theme too.
Just fabulous. With a couple of exceptions, many brand new, truly state-of-the-art spring training ballparks are otherwise cutting-edge but fail to have many nods to the team(s) that play in them. CoolToday Park is both state-of-the-art and infused with Braves’ character.
Similar to the much more generic Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, CoolToday Park is exceedingly functional, with few apparent logistical flaws.
The sightlines are superb. With only 15 rows of seating in the lower bowl (only 10 behind the dugouts), this looks like one of the most intimate spring training ballparks of the 21st century. Fans sitting in the terraces above will feel right on top of the action, hovered all the way to row 3 behind the dugout below. Fans are demonstrably closer to the action here. As should be expected by 2019, CoolToday Park’s sightlines don’t suffer from any of the orientation issues of other parks down the lines, as all seats in the corners appear properly pointed toward the diamond.
Overall, it’s the first Grapefruit League spring park (and second overall) to earn a perfect “10” for sightlines.
If you’re a ballpark trekker, you’ll note that the seats themselves appear to be from an unfamiliar manufacturer (they’re a bit more uncomfortable, in my opinion), but they are all roomy and possess cupholders. State-of-the-art videoboards are now ubiquitous in spring training, but this one is especially good too.
The open, 360-degree concourse is one of the widest in the Grapefruit League and sports sweeping views of the field from all vantage points. Drink rails back the premium terrace tables throughout the concourse, so fans wandering the walkways have plenty of spaces to hang out. So many drink rails, excellent!
CoolToday Park really makes its mark with its series of fan-friendly amenities, even breaking new ground in some respects. This is the first new spring park not designed by one of the two powerhouse architectural firms (Populous and HKS) in generations, so we see some innovative design concepts here (Pendulum).
I’m not crazy about the fact that there aren’t any locally provided concession stands (see the Red Sox in Ft. Myers, among others), but the food selection and quality are very good. Barbeque, seafood, Mexican, salads, interesting chicken dishes, and other unique items are available.
Simply having food offered by local concessionaires that operate independently from the ballpark is usually a good proxy for food quality (incentives, non-captive audience outside the park, etc.), but the food provided by the generic concession stands at CoolToday is actually quite tasty. The “tackle boxes” at “Fish Camp” are a favorite. But here’s my pro tip: try the empanadas at “Salsa Supreme.”
Finally, the “Craft Beer Bar” concession stand serves local beer from Venice, Fort Myers, Sarasota, and Bradenton.
CoolToday Park’s signature social space is the Tomahawk Tiki Bar (pictured above) in the left field corner, the best of its kind in spring training. A far cry from a simple alcohol concession stand or even the typical “tiki bar” in the Grapefruit League, the year-round restaurant and bar is a bona-fide destination, featuring spacious covered seating and its own entrance. Just phenomenal.
Other sitting areas/social spaces include lounge chairs overlooking the left field berm and the LandShark Landing area down the right field line.
The thing I love most about CoolToday Park is the sheer number of unique seating options. Whether we’re talking about premium/private group seating or not, it’s just nice to have choices other than a generic fold-down seat in the main seating bowl.
Starting on the terrace level (mezzanine), two large sections of premium terrace seats flank the two individual luxury suites. Each terrace section features exclusive access to both indoor lounges (“terrace club” and open-air patios (“terrace bar”). The Barbecue and Salad concessions are on this level. Given the great sightlines right on top of the action, the higher-end amenities, and the relatively affordable prices (averaging $30), this upper terrace is my favorite place in the ballpark.
The three “patio suites” on the main concourse behind home plate are the first of their kind in spring training. 4-person semicircular “premium tables” ring around the rest of the main concourse above the lower seating bowl. More of these private tables are positioned above the right field wall. These are all also unparalleled in spring training.
More affordable drink rail seating is available in larger outfield sections (Budweiser Bench) and down the left field line (Left Field Lounge, sometimes used for private groups too). Modeled after a similar space at Truist Park, the Centuari Super Suite within the right field wall is CoolToday Park’s traditional group area. Other group areas (Aaron’s Porch and Niekro’s Nook) are on the terrace level. Finally, the Coors Box and Braves Box adjacent to each dugout behind home plate are CoolToday’s Park super-premium options. An executive bunker club (“LECOM Legends Club”) will open in 2021.
This is industry leading across the board.
In terms of miscellaneous entertainment options, there is band area for live music near the tiki bar. I’m pretty surprised there is no kids’ area within CoolToday Park, given the Braves’ prioritization of that stuff back home. But the band area for live music counts for something.
In sum, CoolToday Park doesn’t have the aesthetics to match the three outstanding Cactus League parks, or even Grapefruit League parks in Sarasota, Lakeland, or Fort Myers, but it excels in pretty much everything else. Superior functionality, tasteful Braves’ historical references, and notable fan-friendly amenities make CoolToday Park the best spring training ballpark in Florida.NEXT - Setting