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.
Many games attended from 2000-2016 before renovation
March 15th 2017, Field Box
March 18th 2017, 34′ Club
March 19th 2017, Field Box
By: Cole Shoemaker
The intimate and historic Joker Marchant Stadium has always been a beloved Grapefruit League venue, but Detroit and Lakeland have done a particularly admirable job of continually upgrading the facility.
Built on the site of a WWII airfield, the park has always tastefully incorporated military motifs infused with Tigers historic references. The key to the most recent round of renovations was preserving that classic character. Like LECOM Park in Bradenton, Lakeland was mostly successful at doing that, but the undertaking was simultaneously much more extensive.
Counting the 2003 renovation, more money has been invested in Tigertown than any other spring renovation project in the 21stcentury. The result is something close to the total package: laid back but attractive aesthetics, good functionality, and state-of-the-art amenities, all while possessing that indelible charm.
To that point, I’d rank the park as the best in the Grapefruit League if I didn’t punish it for having the most isolated location in spring training. Soon to be the only park in central Florida, and the only one not near the coast or near a major tourist destination, Joker Marchant Stadium (JMS) is comparatively out of the way. Don’t get me wrong: JMS is in a decent but unremarkable area within sleepy Lakeland, but I feel the need to take relative proximity into account. Perhaps that’s unfair.
Initially beautified by the 2003 renovations, JMS’s architecture and aesthetics are some of the best in the Grapefruit League inside and out. With an impeccably landscaped palm tree-lined entry and a yellow stucco façade topped with orange terra-cotta roofing, JMS was a memorable sight. The 2017 renovations wisely lightened the intense yellow tone of the façade, which was formerly just a tad garish.
Today, JMS’s exterior architecture is both unmistakably attractive but also refreshingly subdued compared to other ballparks (like Disney) that can be overembellished.
The recent round of renovations did a fantastic job of enhancing the interior aesthetics as well, certainly compared to other stadium renovations which may have prioritized exterior, functionality, and amenities without doing much inside aesthetically.
Unlike many other Floridian renovations, JMS has an expansive berm in left field. With base columns and terra-cotta roofing, extra money was spent beautifying the left field berm bar. In contrast to the spartan administrative offices seen in the outfield at other parks, JMS’s right field structure features more terra-cotta roofing, as do the party decks down the line. In addition, the classic intimate grandstand was maintained.
Indeed, JMS is still endowed with plenty of local character and team historical references. Notable features outside include the iconic Tigertown sign, team posters, big English Ds on the façade, streets named after team legends, and a statue of Joker Marchant himself (Lakeland’s former parks and recreation director).
Inside, we have orange and blue signage and team/area related concession monikers (i.e. Que’ on Kaline). Team posters and various historical plaques adorn the concourses, and the 34 Club essentially functions as a team photographical museum. Kids areas have team-related themes. The right field concourse is ingeniously named “The Runway” in reference to the WWII landing strip formerly on site. Local food is served in the form of Detroit Coney Dogs. Retired numbers are posted on the right field administrative office. Most notably, the outline of a giant Tiger head is painted behind home plate on the concourse.
None of this is at the level of JetBlue Park (Sox) or Steinbrenner Field (Yanks), but JMS also retains that classic vibe missing at those newer venues.
Joker Marchant Stadium is a now a good ballpark from a functional point of view. The sightlines suffer from some orientation issues down the lines, but I think JMS has always nailed the grade of the main grandstand design. I don’t know why newer parks don’t copy it.
The lower box seats are appropriately gently scoped, but the upper reserved 200-level seats have a steeper pitch, as you’ll be vertically higher but right on top of the action. I think this is a good balance between the 80s-early 90s spring parks with grandstands that were too steep in all sections and some of the newer ones where the pitch is too gentle throughout.
Unlike some other renovations, moving throughout JMS’s 360-degree concourse feels seamless without as many discontinuities. You don’t feel like large parts of the park were added after the fact. The outfield concourse feels well connected to the rest of the ballpark, unlike in a place like Bradenton (Pirates). While mostly closed from the field, the concourse possesses sufficient width, and there are great standing room areas with drink rails in right field. JMS also has a 200-level (mezzanine) concourse, most of which is accessible to all and open to the field.
All grandstand seats are now of the fold-down variety and have cupholders. The new HD videoboard is one of the largest in spring training.
While not perfect, JMS has some of the best fan amenities in spring training. On the downside, the variety and quality of the concessions are merely average, a bit disappointing for a renovated facility. Along with Coney Detroit Island, unique items include BBQ, Paninis, Subs, and Tex Mex.
JMS provides all fans with an above-average selection of social spaces, destination bars, and areas to sit down on the concourses, although it could be a bit better. With a full bar and specialty cocktail menu, the Corona Cabana Berm Bar is a fantastic place to chill. Tons of blue picnic tables flank the expansive bar on either side. On the right field “Runway” concourse, the Tigers have a series of charming rocking chairs and shaded tables with padded swivel seats. But Lakeland needs to add some more activity on its mezzanine concourse.
JMS is right up there with the best in the next two categories. Other than Steinbrenner Field, JMS has the best premium seating options and group areas.
Dubbed the 34 Club in honor of the year the team began training in Lakeland, JMS’s all-inclusive mezzanine club seats are some of the best. Usually the domain of groups only in spring training, the plush, climate-controlled space is a legitimate club area in the vein of an MLB park. Despite the free grub and padded seats, the highlight remains the old photographs featured throughout the club. As an added bonus, tickets here are more obtainable than you might think.
Supplementing the five luxury suites named after Tigers legends, Lakeland added the On-Deck Suite in place of some older units on the mezzanine. Only available in sets of 4 season tickets, this functions as JMS’s most high-end premium option. On the other hand, three more traditional “party deck” group spaces are located in right field. Drink rail seating with Adirondack chairs in front of the berm bar rounds out the selection.
While it doesn’t meet Cactus League standards, JMS has the strongest kids’ area/entertainment in Florida. Anchored around a number of inflatable attractions, the play area has inflatable slides, inflatable tubes, speed pitch, a throwing game, and most notably, a 27-foot inflatable Tiger bounce house. Most interesting of all: checkers on the Runway next to the rocking chairs! There are cornhole games as well.
With thoughtful design elements and plenty of money, Lakeland has succeeded in preserving JMS as a spring training destination for any baseball fan.
Simply put, Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium is the master of combining an old-fashioned, classic ballpark atmosphere with 21stcentury Floridian aesthetics and top-shelf ballpark amenities.
Likes and Dislikes:
What I like:
What I don’t like: