NORTH PORT — It’s a major league weekend in North Port.

There’s plenty for families — wiener dogs and their fans — and for college baseball fanatics supporting their schools or looking for the next Bo Jackson or Buster Posey.

The BIG Rally

North Port welcomes the Atlanta Braves for the first full Grapefruit League spring training with “The BIG Rally,” set for 1-4 p.m. Saturday on the City Center Front Green, 4970 City Hall Blvd.

The rally is a community party with family events that include youth baseball and softball skill instruction, an inflatable demolition game/inflatable tomahawk throw, speed-pitch station, and other giant yard games, food, bands and Braves representatives.

Vendors will have food and refreshments. The Rotary Club of North Port Central will sell beer and wine. A highlight will be wiener dog races: dachshunds competing for the title “North Port’s Top Dox.”

North Port resident and “America’s Got Talent” alum Emanne Beasha begins the event with a performance of the National Anthem.

“We are now a baseball city, and we’re ready for the spotlight to shine on North Port in the national media coverage,” North Port city manager Peter Lear said.

“As thousands of fans visit CoolToday Park, they will travel through our city and we’ll welcome them in our restaurants, shops and our new hotel opening soon,” Lear said.

A study in 2017 by Stantec estimates the Atlanta Braves spring training in North Port will generate more than $1.7 billion of economic impact over the 30-year contract.

“This benefits our businesses as well as the residents of North Port,” North Port Economic Development manager Mel Thomas said.

The event also features local Little League, North Port schools, bands, along with local government leaders.

Braves alumni Mike Bielecki and Michael Tucker will be at the Braves tent signing autographs from 1-3 p.m.

Ari and the Alibis perform.

The Doxie Dash, a race for dachshunds, begins at 2:45 p.m. The races split into three age divisions: Little Links (under 2 years), Bratwurst (2 to 8 years old), and Senior Schnitzels (9 years and above).

Food and beverage vendors will be onsite. The event includes free admission and parking, though parking is limited around the City Center. A shuttle will be running from Heron Creek Middle School to the event from 12:30-4:30 p.m.

Like baseball?

Snowbird Baseball Classic — a round-robin with some of the country’s best college players and baseball programs — runs Feb. 14 to March 22. Play starts today in Port Charlotte. Saturday’s match-ups at the Braves’ CoolToday Park in North Port include Ohio State, Iowa and Pittsburgh and St. Joseph’s University. In all, 45 teams compete.

Players, coaches, family and fans are excited for a first visit to the Braves’ ballpark, Tournament Director Steve Partington said.

“It’s the Taj Mahal,” he said of CoolToday. “It’s going to be good for the Braves, good for us. It’s a first-class stadium.”

What’s fun about college baseball is never knowing which players rise to the majors. You may be witnessing the next Bo Jackson, a Nick Swisher or Buster Posey, for instance, as Partington had as a college umpire over 35 years, he said.

“When Bo (Jackson) hit a ball,” he said, “you had to duck.”

Another huge draw this year is players with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, live-streaming on Flosports (subscription) and other activities.

DeSantis in town Sunday

CoolToday Park hosts Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, former MLB players and other dignitaries from Florida’s spring training teams Sunday for a celebratory dinner at the Braves’ new facility in the West Villages area. This is a closed event.


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