Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Guide to Viera, Part I

File photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Spring training in Viera offers fans plenty of up-close interaction.
Thanks to everyone who posted comments yesterday with your suggestions for stories to monitor this spring. I can't promise I'll be able to meet every single request -- I'd need at least three clones down in Viera with me to pull that off -- but I'll certainly do my best to address as many of the suggested storylines as possible.

One request several readers had (and something I'd been planning to do anyway) was to post a fan's guide to spring training and Viera. There are plenty of angles to cover on this, so I figured I'd break it up into two parts. Today, we'll look at what you should know about Space Coast Stadium and the adjacent minor-league complex. Tomorrow, I'll tell you what you should know about the town away from the facility.

Viera gets disparaged a lot, and not without merit. It's probably the most-remote outpost in the Grapefruit League, with no other facility within 55 miles. A still-unincorporated, planned community along Interstate 95, it's lacking in charm but doesn't lack strip malls or chain restaurants.

That said, there may not be a better site in Florida to watch spring training up close. I've been to nearly every facility in the state over the years, and the only one I can remember offering more fan access to players was Dodgertown in Vero Beach, which was abandoned two years ago.

So if you're more interested in standing about 10 feet away from Stephen Strasburg as he throws off a bullpen mound than dining at a five-star restaurant, Viera is the place for you.

Nationals camp can really be broken down into two parts: The two-week period before the exhibition games start, and then the Grapefruit League schedule. During those first two weeks, the team holds daily workouts at the minor-league facility right down the street from Space Coast Stadium. Stretching generally begins around 9 a.m., and everything generally wraps up around lunchtime. The workouts are shorter during the first few days before position players report, though even on days when only pitchers and catchers are formally working out, several early-reporting position players trickle out to take batting practice around noon.

The minor-league facility includes four fields arranged in a cloverleaf pattern, along with a half-field used for baserunning and infield drills and a giant bullpen with 10 mounds side-by-side. Different drills are conducted simultaneously on each field, such as pitchers' fielding practice (better known as PFP), pickoff moves, bunting, baserunning, defensive positioning, etc. Players rotate from field to field over the course of an hour, hitting each station.

Pitchers throw off a mound every other day, for about 7-10 minutes. After a week or so, they move out of the giant bullpen and onto the practice fields to throw "live BP" to hitters, one of my favorite spring drills.

My other favorite drills are when the entire team gathers on one field to work on defensive fundamentals and game situations. You'll have 50 players on one field at the same time (the pitchers are off in foul territory, taking turns trotting out to the mound to field their position) as well as the full coaching staff, someone hitting fungoes to every corner of the field as everyone springs into motion, including baserunners. Makes for some comical moments, especially if a rundown is involved.

The best part of all of this is that fans can watch for free from right behind the fence. You're allowed to wander between the four cloverleaf fields, wander right up to the bullpen area, interact with players as they walk into the facility in the morning, walk between fields during the workout and walk out of the facility in the afternoon.

On a typical weekday, there may not be more than 100 fans in attendance. Even on a weekend, that number probably doesn't surpass 300. Point is, you get fantastic access to everything, and it doesn't cost a dime.

(One weather-related warning if you're planning to attend: Bring layers. It can be surprisingly cold in Viera in late-February, with morning temperatures in the 40s. And it's always windy. Always.)

The spring routine changes once the Grapefruit League schedule begins. Instead of holding workouts at the minor-league facility, the Nationals conduct a lengthy pregame workout inside Space Coast Stadium before home games. Those workouts begin at 9 a.m. for a 1 p.m. game, but fans aren't allowed in until (I believe) 11 a.m., at which point batting practice is in full-swing. The team does sometimes hold parts of BP or other workouts on a field directly behind the stadium, and fans can walk right up to that field and watch.

As for the games themselves, they're very relaxed. You won't see the same kind of intensity as you'd see in the regular season. You also won't see much attention paid to the score. Players are each working on individual things, and the coaching staff is evaluating guys on an individual basis, not on a team basis. A ninth-inning rally may bring fans to their feat, but in the dugout and clubhouse, you'll hear nothing but groans from players who just want to leave for the day.

All that said, the games do offer fans a great chance to watch big-leaguers perform from up close. I remember watching Strasburg's first inning against the Tigers last March from the third row behind the plate, seeing the dramatic movement of that breaking ball from an incredible vantage point. And don't forget the Nats do play a few high-profile teams in Viera, including the Cardinals, Braves, Mets and Yankees (though don't expect too many Yankee players of consequence to make the 3-hour trip from Tampa).

Important dates to know
Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 15
First pitchers and catchers workout: Feb. 17
Position players report: Feb. 20
First full-squad workout: Feb. 22
First Grapefruit League game: Feb. 28 at Mets
First home game: March 1 vs. Mets
Last Grapefruit League game: March 29 vs. Mets

You can see the entire Grapefruit League schedule here.

So there's the lowdown on the baseball side of spring training. Tomorrow, we'll move to Viera and the surrounding Space Coast, with thoughts on hotels, restaurants and other activities.

UPDATE AT 10:45 A.M. -- I forgot to mention this: Minor-league camp begins in mid-March. Those players all work out at the minor-league facility after the big-leaguers vacate it to start the Grapefruit League schedule. There are morning workouts and intrasquad games around 11 a.m. most days, with minor-leaguers from other clubs coming in to play games against them later in March. Big-leaguers who need extra at-bats or innings (especially guys coming off injuries) frequently appear in these "B" games.


NatsJack in Florida said...

The gates at Space Coast Stadium open at 12 Noon for the general public but season ticket holders get in at 11:00 AM for the actual Spring Training games.

Anonymous said...

What is the availability of players for autographs? When is the best time to approach them - after practice, games...? I plan on coming down with my kids and I want them to have the full experience.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Thanks, NatsJack. Knew I could count on you to know specific details.

If you (or anyone else who's been to Viera before) has suggestions or recommendations or insights on topics I didn't cover, please feel free to include them here. Try to stick to the baseball side of things today, though. We'll get to hotels, dining, etc., tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mark.

Any idea when the MLB website folks (nationals.com) will update the player roster with player numbers?

JaneB said...

NatsJack: If you just have a three game plan, does that get you in early?

Thank you sooooo much for this Mark and everyone else!

NervousNatsFan said...

One thing about the stadium - bring sunscreen!! My winter pale skin did not like the Florida sunshine of a 1pm game. And we also went to a night game (maybe 7pm?) and it got quite chilly when the sun went down.

Anonymous said...

I've got little kids (ranging from 5 - 8) and have a couple of things:
- there isn't a playground but you can go in and out of the stadium during games. there's a couple of great slopes that the kids can roll down - just check for the ant hills!
- the picnic area outside of left field looked like a great place to go - unfortunately, it was booked for a private party on our game day - probably worth calling in advance to see if it's open if that's of value to you.
- the Nats bullpen is just past the right baseline stands. the pitchers and catchers hang out there before/during a game and the players walk from the practice facility to the dugout right underneath there - was a great place to be before the game with Dunn asking how my 6 year old was and throwing him a ball.


cadeck13 said...

Nice! I'm getting excited just reading this. I am making my annual trek to ST March 13th. Just like Mark says, Space Coast is great for fan interaction and the players are usually very accomodating for autographs and pictures. Annon 10:51 - I like to get there at 9 am and you can usually catch the pitchers in the practice field just to the side of the front of the stadium. Get there early and once you get inside the stadium there is an autograph well on first and third base sides and players from both teams are typically very good with signing. You can also catch the players when they leave if you go to the Nats side where the batting cages are. Last year I got great pictures of Strasburg in the bullpen doing a simulated game and on the field before a game. Space Coast is great for up close and personal interaction with the players.

Anonymous said...

I thought last year the stadium opened at 11:30 for a 1 pm game. Most other venues open two hours before game time. And you have to have a full season ticket plan to get in early. Autograph opportunites are abundant, you don't even need to go into the stadium early, many players work on the side field behind the stadium hours before the park opens. Also the visitors bus pulls up about 10 am and sometimes you can get autographs from players on other teams as they go into the stadium. All the Nats are accessible and accomodating.

Worst spring venue IMO is the Braves Disney. Its more Disney than baseball.

Anonymous said...

Mark -- is there any new news/speculation on the Nats moving from Viera?

Anonymous said...

Went to Space Coast a few years ago. There's about a 75% chance I will get there this year.
We sat in those great seats behind the plate next to the scouts. But I have to say, IMO, there is no need to pay top price because it is a very cozy place. All of the seats are pretty close up and comfortable.

The sky down there is a very azure blue. It has a certain quality that makes fly balls almost invisible. You will see veteran outfielders just staggering around and they will quite often lose the ball in the sun, the sky, the clouds and the wind. Lots of raised arms and that where the heck is it looks. Also lots of wind blown line drive home runs. Makes a lot of guys look like MM.

Definetly take the sunscreen,a hat,sunglasses,shorts, t-shirt---also a sweater and a jacket because you never know what you're are going to get. Be prepared for very hot or very cold. And you wont know which leaving the hotel.

I went to ST in Ryan Zimmerman's rookie season. I got his autograph after the game. There is room behind and to the sides of the Nats dugout on the right field line where players sign autographs after the game. They seemed to be assigned turns for that kind of duty so you never know who is going to have to stand there and be nice to the fans. My luck it was Zimmerman's turn. As a kid he was fine with it. I also approached Jose Vidro. He had the duty but he was pretty grouchy about it. But there a lots of young players who get the duty, too, and they are very approachable. My advice is if you have kids get a couple of balls and a couple of sharpie pens before you go down. That way you can send them over to the dugout just as the game ends prepared to get an autograph. The balls come in a plastic display case. I am looking at my Ryan Zimmerman ball on my den shelf as I write this. I also have the Vidro and team ball as well. They go to the grandkids when they are old enough.

Harper_ROY_2012 said...


Any word on an accelerated camp for some minor leaguers? I know last year, they started a camp in the afternoons after the big leaugers finished, typically your top prospects not invited to major league camp, a lot of pitchers but some guys like Hood and Burgess, last year if I remember correctly.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Ray Mitten: Nothing new on the Nats leaving Viera, though be assured they are seriously exploring it. I don't know if they can get a deal in place to move somewhere else by spring 2012, but it wouldn't stun me if they do.

HarperROY2012: Haven't heard any specifics on the accelerated camp. If I get details, I'll be sure to pass those along. It usually starts in early March.

Drew8 said...

If you want to see some semblance of the team, it's important to go near the end of ST.

While Viera can be nondescript, it's very close to Melbourne and to Cocoa Beach. I've had three fun trips to Nats spring training, mixing in baseball, beach trips and visits to a wild life refuge on the space coast.

Oh, the huge manatee....

The Joker said...

Perhaps the Lerners could build their own city in central Florida and call it Rizzodelphia.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you Drew8, say what you want about Viera, but head for Melbourne and Cocoa Beach.

Steve M. said...


This is a cool map so you can see where the Nats are and all of the geographical locations of the rest of the teams in Florida. With the Dodgers leaving Florida and other teams moving to the Gulf Coast, it has become a long haul to take in Nats baseball on the road other than the teams near Orlando.

I almost think the teams in Jupiter like the Cardinals/Marlins are even further removed.

Here are your mileages from Viera to the closest stadiums:

Osceola County Stadium, Astros, 54 Miles
Champion Stadium, Braves, 62 Miles
Tradition Field, Mets, 75 Miles
Joker Marchant Stadium, Tigers, 89 Miles
Roger Dean Stadium, Marlin/Cardinal, 113 Miles
George M Steinbrenner Field, Yankees, 131 Miles

People talk about the long drives and since Viera is so close to 95 that I have found the drives using mostly highway to each stadium and 65MPH that even Tampa East for the Yankees is a little over 2 hours---I know Mark Z. says 3 hours so maybe with a lunch break and a fill-up it can be but well worth the trip.

Like RayMitten says, the Braves Disney is Disney but still a fun day out there if you haven't been and the right field berm in Jupiter is fun too.

Nothing like Spring Training baseball!

Steve M. said...

Oh, if you like to gamble and take in the Yankees, they are up the street from the Hard Rock Casino Seminole in Tampa! If you lose, just don't blame me!

Theophilus said...

Am waiting for a post from JayB complaining that the Lerners are going cheap on cold cuts (salami instead of roast beef) in the club house. And that the hot dogs at the concession stands are Esskay, not Nathan's.

SonnyG10 said...

Thanks Mark, for this excellent topic, and thank you NatsJack and other posters for the great information. I'm planning my first trip ever to ST and I'm really excited about it.

court, rfk428 said...

I haven't been in a few years, but I always enjoyed sitting behind the Nats (1st base) dugout. You're able to chat up the coaches as well as the players in the on-deck circle. I got a chuckle out of Zim by yelling, "Go Hokies" at him.

Sun screen is a must for those of fair to medium complexion. Even if it doesn't feel hot, if you can burn... you will.

Nothing like the access down there, if you can make the trip, I strongly encourage you do so. This is probably our last year in Viera and like Mark points out, you're right on top of the players.

Souldrummer said...

Thank you all very much for your insights in this thread. Really helpful to have great commenters, and while I won't be able to go this year, this certainly whets my appetite and my motivation to earn the privilege of going in future years.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know who got DFA'ed for Gorzelanny yet? Inquiring minds want to know?

Anonymous said...

You can get some golf in when they play a night game. I've got an outing planned just down the street from space coast stadium called Duran golf club. I believe the Nats players play a little tourny there on an off day. One of the players had a hole in on there last year I believe? Several courses in the area to choose from though. JTinSC

court, rfk428 said...

Anon 2:55,

Martis was DFA'd, cleared waivers and assigned to SYR (with a ST invite). It happened the same day the Maxwell trade was announced so it got lost in the shuffle a little.

Traveler8 said...

@court rfk428 - Martis was the 3rd DFA, along with Martin and Maxwell. There is still one more to go.

natsfan1a said...

Adding my thanks for this thread, and the other one to come. Looking forward to making our first ST trip this year.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Sorry but had to spend some time on the road today and haven't been able to catch up on the posts.

Two quick things though, JayneB... the early entry is for ST season ticket holders. You get a VIP badge that allows early entry.

As for autographs, during the practice only sessions in the 10 - 14 days prior actual games, the players are very approachable before and after actual practice. DO NOT attempt to get any autographs or request any picture posing once practice starts.

I'll scroll through the previous posts and see if there are any other questions I can answer.

Anonymous said...

It has been said before but it warrants being said again, SUNSCREEN. I got one of the worst burns of my life at HSCS.

Second, it also warrants being said again, LAYERS. It is winter, after all. I always get a kick out of the folks who show up for a night game in shorts and a tee shirt. It may be 70 at 6 pm but by the end of the game, it can approach the 50s. Dress like you would for a late April game in DC and you will be okay.

It is a WONDERFUL place to see baseball. Much better than the Mets, Astros or Braves homes! I go to Viera and always think that I have seen heaven itself.

court, rfk428 said...


So the last DFA will be to make room for Coffey? I guess Atilano.

Anonymous said...

This wonderfully detailed post has me jazzed about taking a trip down there in March. Thanks, Mark! I look forward to your next with (I would suppose) tips on places to stay, etc.

Another_Sam said...

raymitten -- regarding the Disney park: Although I think that there are worse places to watch baseball than the Disney park, I know what you mean. You called it; it's Disney. Everything Disney looks just like you expect it to look, including the ballpark. In that sense it's perfect. Too perfect. [NB: that's my feeling about the park in Baltimore also -- reminds me of a model train layout. Everything is faux: the warehouse, the lines of sight, the view of the harbor, the height of the fences and so on.] Of course, I liked the quaint charm and nostalgia of RFK. LOL

But still I think that the Disney park is an okay place to watch baseball. And the proximity to the Astro's park is a plus.

Another_Sam said...

Steve M> - You're right, there's nothing like spring baseball. To get on a plane in the dreary winter, and that afternoon be in a sunny ballpark watching major leaguers work out and play is a tonic for the mind, the body, and the soul.

About the distances between parks -- in my mind the other things to do pale in comparison to spring baseball, so I say drive all you need to, in order to maximize the baseball you can see. No one says you have to stay in the same hotel every night.

Now I've got to 'fess up: I used to think that Viera was among the bottom of the heap of the spring venues. But I'm slowly coming to see the er, charm? of the place. It's come a long way. The first year for the Nats, the park was surrounded by town and housing tract development that wasn't there at all -- just in the planning stage. It's coming along now.

Feel Wood said...

"About the distances between parks -- in my mind the other things to do pale in comparison to spring baseball, so I say drive all you need to, in order to maximize the baseball you can see. No one says you have to stay in the same hotel every night."

But the Nats do. And so do the other teams. Which is reason #1 they will move their ST location ASAP so it's closer to more of the opposing teams. Spring training is not for the convenience of the fans, it's to get the players ready to play the long season. Having to be on a bus for several hours just to play an exhibition game is not conducive to that.

Drew8 said...

One other point: Last year, for variety, a friend and I went to ST for a week and drove to the Nats' away games, in addition to the home games in Viera.

While it was interesting to see the Tigers' park in Lakeland and the Yankees' complex in Tampa, I found it to be a bit of a grind.

If this is a vacation week and you're trying to wind down from work, I've found it more relaxing to attend the home games in Viera and spend the "away" days doing other things.

There's lots to do, like taking a book to the beach in Melbourne, playing golf, or visiting the Kennedy Space Center or the spectacular Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

At the refuge, I was looking out the car window at a rather large gator. My friend said, "I know that's cool, but you should look at these migrating birds. You won't see them anywhere else."

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much Mark. I will be down for a few games and can't wait. Got to get away from the Beltway!

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