VENICE — It’s the top of the ninth inning for the Atlanta Braves.
As their new home in North Port edges closer to being done, fans and the Braves staff are ready to play ball. Though before the first pitch is thrown, the Braves have decided to get to know all their new neighbors.
On Saturday, the Braves took it to the streets and shut down Miami Avenue in Venice to enjoy the festivities with fans.
The choice to hold their celebration in Venice has sparked concern with some residents.
CoolToday Park is in North Port city limits in the West Villages. On social media, a small group of residents were upset a block party was held in Venice, since the Braves call North Port home.
The Saturday event was sponsored by Venice Mainstreet, the Braves and West Villages. Venice Mainstreet is the visitor’s center for the downtown district.
For the Braves, it’s about getting people who love baseball together — and attracting new fans.
The team wants people from all over to attend games and become fans.
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Braves Country, according to Vice President of Florida Operations Mike Dunn, was out in full force Saturday.
The block party attracted fans from all over to come enjoy a night of music, fun, food and some Braves alumni.
“The response is phenomenal,” Dunn said.
He said the night couldn’t have been better.
The excitement was shared by fans who attended, many of them having ties back to Atlanta.
Larry Hansen has been a fan since 1975, and has lived at Sarasota National for the last three years. Being up the road from the Braves is exciting for him. He’s part of the Beach Club which is for season ticket holders.
“I can’t wait,” Hansen said.
Hansen said the celebration on Miami Avenue is the team’s way of becoming part of the region.
“(They’re) really committed to being part of the community,” Hansen said.
Like Hansen, the Griffins from Nokomis are excited for the park to open. Bruce and Cyndee Griffin have been fans since 1966 and previously lived in Atlanta.
They enjoyed taking their grandson, Jackson Dye, to the event Saturday. Dye has memorized every Braves stat and is a loyal fan.
“It sweetens the deal,” Cyndee said.
Gail Lawing, a Venice resident, hosted friends from Atlanta who planned their trip around the event.
Lawing has been a Braves fan for 18 years and previously lived in Atlanta. She said she sees all area communities enjoying of the Braves.
“(I’m) surprised at how many people have come out for this,” Lawing said.
Lawing’s friend, Gary Bozeman, lives in downtown Atlanta and has been a lifelong fan of the team.
“(Gail) has kept us informed,” he said.
Bozeman said he is looking forward to attending Spring Training games at CoolToday Park.
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While fans are excited for the opening of the park, the Braves will play the majority of the spring training season in Lake Buena Vista at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.
The last game of Spring Training 2019 will be played in North Port with a first pitch at 4:05 p.m. March 24. Tickets for the final game sold out in two hours in January.
Dunn said work continues at the park and it may continue until the last hour.
Dunn said dates for an open house and public viewings of the stadium are coming up.
While spring training is only February through March, the Braves would like to have the park open all year.
“We want to welcome everyone,” Dunn said.