Steinbrenner Field is the largest ballpark to host Spring Training in Florida and has the least intimate feel, but that has a lot more to do with its relatively bland design and choice of location than its just over 11,000-seat capacity.
Long known as Legends Field, the ballpark was built amidst the hustle and bustle of Tampa’s busy Dale Mabry Highway. Its neighbor on the other side of the street is Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Spring Training fans are directed to the NFL stadium for parking, which is a pricey $10 in one of Raymond James’ grass lots.
A pedestrian bridge above Dale Mabry connects fans from the parking lot to Steinbrenner Field, where a walkway outside of the ballpark in right field takes fans to the main entrance behind home plate, where a nicely manicured mini-version of Monument Park resides.
The ballpark’s spartan design features one large seating bowl that extends symmetrically into the outfield on both sides. A concourse slices through this single deck, splitting it into two sections. The large two-level structure behind home plate houses the ample press box and the ballpark’s dozen luxury suites.
Although it was built fairly recently, Steinbrenner Field lacks some of the popular favorites now found in the modern ballpark, such as berm seating and a concourse open to the playing field. And because of the Yankees’ popularity, the large crowds that regularly fill the ballpark in March have lengthy waits to use the small number of bathrooms.
The ballpark does have some very nice touches that Yankees fans will be sure to appreciate. The white façade that graces the roof and encircles the stadium is reminiscent of Yankee Stadium’s signature feature, while the playing field dimensions are identical to those at Yankee Stadium. The ivy-covered wall in each team’s bullpen is classy and the distinctive open panel roof design has become the signature hallmark of the Yankees’ spring home. On each side of the ballpark, there are a series of seven open panels between the roof’s façade and the seating bowl. Each panel contains one large letter that spells out the name “Yankees.” The design is aesthetically pleasing and gives Steinbrenner Field an open feel.
As a spring training facility, Steinbrenner Field is the least fan-friendly of the 14 ballparks that currently host Grapefruit League games. Player accessibility is very limited, and during the game the Yankees station ushers in optic yellow outfits on the concourse between the two seating sections. If you have a seat in one of the 200 sections they won’t let you into the 100 sections. They also shoo fans away from the bullpen area. That’s not the norm for Spring Training, as the staff at other ballparks often allow fans more leeway during the laidback exhibition games.
And that’s a big part of the problem with seeing a game at Steinbrenner Field. The atmosphere here isn’t as fun as it should be. Sure, the video board (one of the only in the Grapefruit League) shows people dancing to “Cotton Eye Joe” in the 8th inning, just like at Yankee Stadium, but the overall vibe gives the place a business-like feel that’s contradictorily to the easy going nature usually associated with Spring Training games.
If you’re a diehard Yankees fan that won’t matter too much, but the experience in Tampa is different than elsewhere. It also costs more, as ticket prices are barely hovering around affordability: the cheapest seat is $17. The games usually sell out and the fans do stay around here a little while longer than at many other ballparks, where they often begin to hit the exits circa the 6th inning.
What the ballpark lacks in fan accessibility is often made up for in starting game time convenience. The Yankees play about half of their spring schedule at night (7:05), which makes the games easier to attend for the average fan. Most Spring Training venues host only one or two night games each March, and a few don’t have any night games at all. Steinbrenner Field easily hosts more night games than any other ballpark in the Grapefruit League.
Although the quaintness of Spring Training is limited at Steinbrenner Field, there are some exceptions. During one game here I was able to watch (from the concourse) A-Rod go through a number of drills with a trainer on a practice field after he left the game.
Nonetheless, the lines between Spring Training’s intimate appeal and fan friendliness have been blurred at Steinbrenner Field, which is too much an extension of the big league, big business mantra the Yankees march to. The end result is that Tampa offers up a more professional experience than it should, considering the historical appeal of Spring Training.
Under the rule of George Steinbrenner the Yankees were always a button-down organization, and that’s the problem with the ballpark The Boss had built in his hometown of Tampa.
Steinbrenner Field, located on a busy highway in a big city, isn’t your normal Spring Training facility, but the New York Yankees aren’t your typical baseball organization. The reality is the stadium fits the team, for better or worse.