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$48.5 million makeover


Changes at Twins' spring home were so extensive they took two years

Text and photos by Joe Mock, BaseballParks.com
All rights reserved

FORT MYERS, FLORIDA  The folks at the Lee County Government in Florida are very clever, and they know how to look ahead. They knew that they had two assets that are worth a king's ransom, and they wanted to lock them up for a long, long time.

One asset was having the Boston Red Sox hold their spring training in Fort Myers. When it appeared the team might move that operation elsewhere, the County stepped up and constructed a new $77 million complex for the Sox.

The other ultra-valuable asset is the Twins, who've trained in Fort Myers for the past 24 years. However, their facilities had lagged behind and needed some sprucing up. There didn't appear to be any strong sentiment by the Twins to move, but the County stepped in with a plan to keep the Twins around for the next couple of decades.

All told, $48.5 million in improvements were agreed upon, with the County picking up $42.5 million and the team paying the rest. In exchange, the Twins agreed to extend their lease for 30 years. “There can’t be any people better to work with than Lee County,” Bill Smith, Assistant to the President and General Manager of the Twins, told me in an interview for an article I wrote for USA Today's Spring Training Preview magazine. “They take care of us and I think we’ve worked really well with them for the past 24 years. The Minnesota Twins are really excited about the next 30.”

Populous oversaw the design of all of the changes. The construction to make all of them happen took two years, with the final phase being completed in time for 2015's spring training. Here is a look at what that $48.5 million purchased at the newly named CenturyLink Sports Complex.

This structure was new in 2014. It houses the team's "academy," complete with dorm-like rooms, laundry facilities, study areas and an enormous rec room. Mark Weber, Manager of the Twins' Florida Business Operations, was my tourguide.

The first improvements were made out in the "practice" area of the complex, where most visitors don't get to visit. The most significant addition is the team's new Player Development Academy, where young players actually live while going through training and, for many, acclimation to American life and the English language.

The Academy is as beautiful as any Florida resort hotel or condo. It not only includes dorm rooms, a full cafeteria, study rooms, laundry facilities, an oversized rec room and the nicest meeting room/theater that I've seen in any spring-training facility, but it also does an outstanding job of communicating the team's "culture" and rich history to the young players.

The beautiful cafeteria provides all of the meals for the players living at the Academy. As Weber told me, "You won't find any soft drinks here," nor will you find junk food of any kind. The hallways are adorned with enlarged baseball cards of past Twins greats, and the auditorium is spacious, even by the standards of today's pro athletes.

Also new is a well-equipped Minor League clubhouse (the Major Leaguers use the locker room in the ballpark) and a highly unusual feature: a "training hill." The first of its kind at a complex in Florida, this man-made mound of earth facilitates training activities that can't be duplicated on flat ground.

As young players pass by the exterior wall of the new Minor League clubhouse, they are reminded of the Twins' marketing slogan. It appears in a number of places in the complex. On the right, part of a player's workout regimen is to run sprints up the side of the man-made hill.

A hundred yards away is Hammond Stadium, where the big leaguers work out and where the exhibition games are played. Hammond has long had one of the prettiest exteriors in all of spring-training ball, but the inside wasn't, well, equally appealing. Not even close.

After Phase 2 of the renovations were completed, through, Hammond now compares favorably with any of the other 13 spring-training ballparks in the state.

Always beautiful on the outside with a huge fountain and impressive entry staircase, Hammond Stadium's interior never measured up -- until now. One significant change was the widening of the main concourse. You can see the line in the pavement where the old walkway used to end. Now it is much more comfortable getting around.

Upon entering the ballpark, repeat visitors will be shocked by the width of the main concourse under the stands. What was once dark and narrow is now open and bright. This might not seem like an impactful improvement, but believe me, it is quite significant.

To those familiar with the park, another jarring change -- for the better -- is a much wider portal into the seating bowl (architects call such an opening a "vomitorium," but let's not get too technical). This used to be a fairly narrow opening, no wider than all of the others around the concourse, Now it is brighter and much more inviting.

The opening behind home plate from the concourse under the seats to the main seating bowl is now tremendously wider than before. The renovations also opened up wonderful new areas -- and thankfully the new patios and drink rails are in the shade.

During the first phase of the renovations, the area beyond the fences was opened up, as a "boardwalk" was added from foul pole to foul pole. This not only allows fans to complete a 360-degree walk around the ballpark (a popular activity at spring-training games), this permitted berm space to be added in left field and the addition of multiple group decks, including a significant seating section in right field. That area can be seen in the shot at the top of this page.

Phase 1 included significant changes to the outfield area of the ballpark. A boardwalk wrapped around a new berm, and new table-top seating was added.

One thing that didn't need to be changed was the impressive walkway to the entrance to the park.

Always a beauty on the outside, the Twins' spring ballpark is now just as attractive on the inside. And the adjacent training complex is as modern and impressive as any in the state.

If you have any thoughts on the Twins' renovated spring home, feel free to post them below.