Many thanks to OldLadyTwinsFan and the rest of the denizens at BattleYourTailOff.com for their help compiling this article.
Lee County, Fla., isn’t near Miami. It’s nearly 1,800 miles from Cabo San Lucas, and a full 2,000 miles from Las Vegas.
Yet for thousands of Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox fans, Ft. Myers and the surrounding Lee County area will always be the heart of their spring break plans.
Without a doubt, part of the allure of attending spring training games for many fans is the break from long Midwestern winters.
Hammond Stadium provides a great chance for fans to sit in the sun and watch their favorite team, a feature not even available to fans in Minneapolis in mid-summer.
Hammond Stadium and its surrounding complex are situated in the southeastern section of the city, positioned between the Fort Myers airport and the more densely populated sections of downtown.
The Twins moved into the Lee County Sports Complex in the spring of 1991, the first year the facility was open. After finishing second to last in the American League the year before, the Twins left their site in Orlando where they had played since 1946.
Their arrival in Ft. Myers must have brought them good luck, since they improved their finish by 21 games and went on to defeat the Atlanta Braves in the 1991 World Series.
Their 20-year lease on the facility ends soon, but the Twins have made no motions of heading away from their home-away-from-home, due to their strong connection to the area.
Not only do the Twins occupy the facility from late February to early April, they also keep a nearly permanent presence in Hammond Stadium. The single decked stadium houses the major leaguers for a while, but when the Twins head north, their high-A affiliate, the Fort Myers Miracle, takes over.
Before they moved to the Cactus League in 1998, the Chicago White Sox occupied a field in nearby Port Charlotte. The rivalry between these two teams is one of my favorites in all of sports, and getting a chance to see them play even before meaningful games started is one of my favorite memories of Spring Training.
While the players can seem less than interested in some spring games, it was clear that even though these games wouldn’t count in the standings, the players wanted to send a message to their opponents that they were not to be trifled with during the upcoming season.
A resounding Twins win, along with getting a foul ball from one of the vendors outside, made the game one of the most enjoyable baseball experiences I’ve had.
If you’re looking to eat at the park, just follow your nose. Many stations have open grills and their own take on the baseball classics. The right field area has a number of good choices and provides a great atmosphere in which to enjoy the game.
One thing many fans love about spring training is the chance to get an autograph from their favorite players.
The complex is a very open facility with lots of practice fields, which gives fans a chance to see their favorite players up close. The best way to get a player to sign is to arrive before practice starts or after it has concluded.
While there may be an urge to stop your favorite Twin as they move between fields during the day, it’s not advisable. They are still in practice and probably will not stop. Once the day is over, however, most are more than happy to stop and chat.
Unlike many Spring Training facilities, the Lee County Sports Complex provides fans with a number of hotel choices, depending on your priorities.
If the Twins are all you’re coming for, consider staying at either the Best Western-Fort Myers Airport or the Comfort Suites Airport. Both are between the Fort Myers airport and the stadium, providing easy access to both places and saving on gas.
If you’re looking to take in the city or the surrounding beaches, The Clarion Hotel Fort Myers is closer to the center of town, but still within a short drive of the stadium.
The Ramada Limited Fort Myers is just off the Midpoint Bridge, further from Hammond Stadium, but closer to local activities. There are also reports that this where the Twins players stay during their time in Florida.
If your plans involve staying for more than a week, looking into a condo rental is worth your time. You can fit a larger number of people, which helps to defray costs, and having a full kitchen can help save on food costs.
If eating out is half the reason you go on vacation, you’re in luck, there are myriad local places with great fare.
The Shrimp Shack provides great seafood, and The Farmer’s Market gives Northern folks a taste of Southern favorites like fried okra. Ichabod’s took over for Dwyer’s, which used to be a favorite hangout of the Twins’ players.
No word on whether or not they’ve continued to go there since the change, but the menu is worth the trip, even if Ron Gardenhire isn’t seated at the table next to yours.
One thing to keep in mind is the time of year you choose to visit. Games begin on Feb. 25, and continue through the entire month of March. If you go at the beginning, you’re likely to find cheaper airfare, hotels and a generally quieter atmosphere.
As spring breakers arrive, everything will get more expensive and more crowded.
The Ft. Myers area is a fantastic place for families and die-hard fans alike. When the Twins are elsewhere, or have a day off, there’s a lot to do, but having a rental car is certainly recommended.
Florida staples like a day at the beach or on the golf course are a given; both abound in the area. Other local attractions include Fort Myers’ many parks: Lover’s Key State Park has one of the best beaches in the state, City Lakes Park (near the Red Sox’s facility) has bike and rollerblade rentals and plenty of trails to try them on, and many of the local parks will allow you to rent a kayak or canoe to explore mangrove islands or cypress swamps.
The easy ocean access provides opportunities for dinner cruises, deep sea fishing excursions or a more laid back sightseeing trip.
If you get seasick easily, or if you arrive without a necessity or two, you may prefer to investigate the area’s expansive shopping centers. Two outlet malls are just the beginning, but they do provide a nice starting point.
Just across San Carlos Bay are islands worth any visitor’s time, though it would be wise to plan a full day to take in all they have to offer.
Sanibel Island, the largest island, boasts some of the best white sand beaches and a fantastic nature preserve on the island’s northern coast.
Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge gives visitors a chance to walk around a mangrove ecosystem and view an incredible array of migratory birds.
Renting a bike is a great way to survey the island, and keeps you out of the traffic jams that can clog this narrow island with fewer arterial streets.
Jacarandi and the Over Easy Café are good spots to stop and grab a bite to eat here. Jacarandi is a little more upscale, though in this part of Florida the term is relative as it pertains to dress.
If you’re looking for a bar and club scene, head to Fort Myers Beach.
The beach is actually a thin barrier island connected by bridge to the mainland, so many places are located within walking distance of one another.
The Smoking Oyster hosts live music and sits near other popular spots such as Parrot Key and Yucatan Beach Stand Bar and Grill.
Fort Myers Beach is on the opposite side of the city from Twins’ fields, so unless you have a car getting between locations could be difficult. Fort Myers has a bus system, but reports vary as to its usefulness.
Thus concludes the overview of the Fort Myers area, but for everything included, something was left out. The area is extremely visitor friendly and brimming with new places to eat and spend the day.
Take this guide as just that, a guide. When the games end, hit the town and enjoy everything the area has to offer. If you find a great spot, let others know!
Just remember if you plan on going: practice starts bright and early; most day games begin at 12:05; and if you sunburn on the first day, you’ll be miserable the rest of the week.