Pack It Up: Houston Astros Look For New Spring Training Location
After 28 years in Kissimmee and Osceola County Stadium, the Houston Astros have begun the process of pulling up stakes for greener pastures on Florida’s east coast. It seemed that they had settled on a location in Palm Beach Gardens but some locals are now kicking up a bit of a fuss which is their right. From this fan’s perspective, any site in that general area will be a vast improvement on Kissimmee.
I spent some extraordinarily enjoyable summers at Astros Spring Training. OCS is cozy, well-maintained and staffed with friendly faces. I was hooked from the moment I flopped into my seat with a program, peanuts and beer to watch BP. I wore my newly purchased and exceedingly groovy beach baseball gear on the second day. These are duds your average ‘Stros fan does not own. When I see someone at the JuiceBox with a Houston shirt with a surfboard on it, I know they are a real fan.
The best part is how close fans get to the players. Many of them take the time to not only sign in autograph alley but to engage the fans personally. I vividly recall standing three feet away watching Roy Oswalt warm up, giving me a full understanding of elite pitching in the majors; just scary. Following the team to the Disney-themed Braves training facility made me appreciate the true baseball experience provided by OCS. Minnie and Mickey tossed out the first pitch; uh, no thanks. And while the Braves stadium was first class, it was much like the MLB parks, keeping fans secluded from the players and the game.
I suspect many other spring training sites offer a stadium experience comparable to OCS. And to say that the area surrounding OCS was a disappointment was to say Steve Bartman didn’t enjoy his last Cubs game. The paucity of amenities in the immediate area was shocking. You would think there would be a modest chain restaurant like a Chili’s but you’d be mistaken. There was a steak joint with waitresses dressed in Astros jerseys that had decent food. But it was overpriced and when I asked our waitress in the Brad Ausmus jersey if she like his play or like most ladies, his posterior, she replied. “What?” After a struggle getting her to understand my point, the light came on and she said, “Oh I don’t know anything about baseball they just make me wear this thing.” It was a small matter, sure; but you would think there would be more enthusiasm if for nothing else the economic impact on the community.
We ultimately decided just to alternate between the Taco Bell and the food we stuffed into our tiny room after making the forty minute drive to civilization through a near infinity of red lights. There, we found some decent, if mundane dining choices along with groceries and liquor. But who wants to drive a couple of hours every day just to get necessities? We arrive at OCS when it opens and leave when it closes. Hours in the hot sun and lots of walking left us with no desire or energy to go on a road trip.
Hotels near the stadium are almost entirely rebranded chains, the ones that pop up after the Ramada Inn sign is bagged. Given the condition of the ones we patronized, I get why they are House of Holidays and not Holiday Inns. The one or two that still carried a national name were dangerously close to getting the plastic. My son created a toilet malfunction due to the submission of excessive paperwork. I called the front desk to report it and I was commanded—commanded—to report downstairs. When I got there, the clerk handed me a filthy plunger with a plastic bag wrapped around the business end. He said “bring it back when you are done!” Lovely, eh?
One stay in Kissimmee convinced a friend of mine that it was worth the drive to stay in Orlando where the accommodations, eateries and bars are first rate. If we return before the move, we will certainly consider doing that.
A cursory look at Palm Beach Gardens is all I need to say “please, for the love of Nolan Ryan, move there.”