WEST VILLAGES — The baseball world will focus on West Villages next month, as the first full Atlanta Braves Spring Training season dawns at the new Cool Today Park.
To get it all started, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred will join several MLB players and other dignitaries from Florida’s Spring Training teams for a celebratory dinner at the Braves’ new facility.
The Governor’s Baseball Dinner is set for Feb. 16 at Cool Today Park, the Spring Training home for the Atlanta Braves, organizers announced Tuesday.
Spring Training has a long history in Sarasota County dating back to 1924 at Payne Park. Many teams have called the county their Spring Training home, but the opening of Cool Today Park at the end of the 2019 Spring Training season signaled Major League Baseball’s first foray into South County.
“It’s a prestigious event for our community and the city of North Port to be able to welcome the governor and dignitaries that attend each year, as well as team representatives,” said Shelby Connett, director of sports for Visit Sarasota County.
The welcoming dinner around Florida is annually attended by the governor, local elected officials, the MLB commissioner, representatives of the 15 teams in Florida’s Grapefruit League, and members of the local community. Spring Training kicks off in late February.
“Having them right in our backyard really shows off our community and creates a great name for Sarasota in terms of spring training,” Connett said.
Connett said they don’t project economic impact for any events, but organizers of the Governor’s Baseball Dinner, the Florida Sports Foundation, anticipate 400 to 500 guests, all likely staying at least one night in the area.
Names of the players in attendance should be released within the next week.
In related news, the second Braves on Miami block party is set from 5-10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8 in Venice.
It will bring back Spring Training baseball for the Atlanta Braves and their West Villages facility, Cool Today Park.
And it will do it in Mardi Gras style, according to a news release from Venice MainStreet.
Atlanta Braves player Andruw Jones will take part in a meet and greet while the Grammy-award winning band Rebirth Brass Band will provide jazz from the streets of the French Quarter.
“We are thrilled to be invited by Venice MainStreet to help celebrate the start of Atlanta Braves Spring Training,” Braves Vice President of Florida Operations Michael Dunn said.
Proceeds will assist Venice Challenger Baseball and Venice MainStreet. Admission is $5; children under 12 are free. For more information, visit www.visitvenicefl.org.
Major League Baseball players, DeSantis and other high profile visitors coming to North Port in February earned thumbs up from local leaders.
“Any time you get the governor in your amazing city, that’s a big deal,” North Port Mayor Debbie McDowell said.
“The stadium is a major economic driver for the community,” North Port assistant city manager Jason Yarborough said. “We’re excited.”
Tickets to the celebration are available. General admission tickets are $100, VIP tickets $150, with the option to purchase tables for groups.
Guests purchasing a VIP ticket get access to the VIP reception, which provides an opportunity to mingle and get autographs. Tickets can be purchased online at playinflorida.com, selecting the Governor’s Baseball Dinner tab at the top of the homepage.
Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 12 and their first workout will be the following day. Position players report on Feb. 17, and the first full-squad workout set for the next day. The Braves open their first full 33-game Grapefruit League season at Cool Today with the Baltimore Orioles visiting Feb. 22.
More than 1.4 million fans attended games in Florida during the 2019 season, according to MLB.com. For schedules, ticket information and more about the Braves and Cool Today Park, visit www.mlb.com/braves/.