'Fenway South' latest Lee Co. gem
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Its exterior is futuristic, to be sure, with its exotic white roof structures designed to resemble the wings of seagulls – think the old DeLorean automobiles with gull-wing flip-up doors – that inhabit the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico a good 18 miles to the west.
Its interior, however, is a nice mix of new and old, with plenty of patronage offered to Boston’s venerable Fenway Park. It is this combination of these two esthetic realities that makes JetBlue Park – dubbed affectionately and not lacking historical basis as “Fenway South” – a true Lee County (Fla.) baseball gem in an area already bursting at the seams with quality baseball facilities.
The new spring training home of the Boston Red Sox opened for its first spring season earlier this month to rave reviews. Every Red Sox Grapefruit League game is already a sellout at the 11,000-seat main stadium. The complex also includes six other full-size practice and training fields.
Pablo Adorno is a Lee County Parks and Recreation senior supervisor and the designated JetBlue Park stadium manager. He has been overseeing the construction of the playing fields and by all accounts they are of Major League quality.
“So far so good,” Adorno said Friday afternoon before the home-standing Red Sox dropped a 7-4 Grapefruit League decision to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a game delayed 20 minutes by rain. “We’re starting to get some of the kinks out from the first couple of games and the place is phenomenal.”
Adorno said work continued on the complex right up until opening day (March 3) and work remains ongoing at the complex.
“We took over the fields in mid-December and I’ve had staff our here since then, and that helped us get ready field-wise,” he said, adding that final cost came in close to the budgeted $78 million for the project.
The main stadium is certainly appealing to the eye both inside and out. JetBlue Park’s modern exterior gives way to a playing field constructed with Fenway Park in mind, right down to its dimensions and its own version of the legendary “Green Monster.”
JetBlue’s playing field dimensions are identical to historic Fenway’s – 310-feet down the left-field line, 379 into left-center, 420 to dead center, 380 to the right-field bullpen areas and 302 to the right-field foul pole.
And then there is the new “Monster.” Standing 43-feet tall, compared to its 37-foot counterpart in Boston, the left-field blockade offers reserved seating both on top of and behind the wall and features a manual scoreboard that served Fenway for more than 30 years and was removed in 1994.
The Red Sox moved to this new complex from its previous spring training homes at City of Palms Park and the Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex, both located within a couple of miles of each other near Fort Myers’ historic downtown district.
Fort Myers’ official nickname is “City of Palms” and city officials planted hundreds of palm trees around City of Palms Park to enhance its neighborhood’s appearance. Because the climate is different in the southeast corner of Lee County where JetBlue Park was built – about 5 degrees cooler on average according to at least one online account – palm trees are few and far between at JetBlue.
Adorno said City of Palms and the 5-Plex will continue to host amateur and college events, including those ran by Perfect Game. COP, the 5-Plex, Terry Park and the Lee County Sports Complex with Hammond Stadium – the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins – give Lee County and the Fort Myers community MLB-quality baseball venues that are the envy of the nation.
“I think it adds another jewel to baseball in Fort Myers,” Adorno said of JetBlue. “We have some great facilities and this one kind of puts us over the top. It added to the inventory of fields we can add to events like Perfect Game and other amateur sports, which to me is a bigger part of this than spring training. Spring training is great but we will use this during the offseason and it’s a huge selling point on our end.
“We’re looking at some dates for Perfect Game already,” he continued. “This is part of the inventory they will use; they will use this facility.”