Tips and notes for the Spring Training traveler.
Back by popular demand, we’re running our yearly, informal, hopefully helpful Guide To Spring Training. In this blog, you’ll find tips for navigating around Osceola County Stadium and for getting around the areas surrounding the ballpark, with suggestions as to where to eat, where to lodge and what roads to avoid if you don’t want to lose your mind (yea, I’m talking about you, highway 192).
Hopefully, these tips will help you out as you travel to Central Florida for another spring season. Please feel free to contribute in the comments section below. I’m sure a lot of you are seasoned Spring Training veterans and have found plenty to do when you’re down (over) there. So please share your knowledge/experiences. Thanks!
For those of you not going to Spring Training, please check back often to this blog and astros.com for complete coverage of everything happening with your Astros throughout the spring season. We’ll be providing news, photos and videos, all with hopes that you’ll reacquaint yourselves with some of your old favorites as well as get to know those who are new to the team. You can also follow me on Twitter, where I’ll be providing minute-by-minute updates throughout. Where I go, you’ll go.
1. Where is Kissimmee and how do I get there?
Kissimmee is about 20 minutes from Disney, to the west of Orlando, on Highway 192. The address is 1000 Bill Beck Blvd., on the left heading toward the turnpike.From the Orlando Airport, take the South exit (to Kissimmee) out of the airport. Merge onto Boggy Creek Road, pass under the #417 – Greenway and continue on Boggy Creek to the next stop light (Circle K store on corner) turn right. This is still Boggy Creek Rd. After you pass the Lakeside Subdivision stay in the right lane and go right at the next light (still Boggy Creek), go over the bridge, turn left at the light (Bill Beck Blvd.). Stadium parking lot will be on the right approximately 1/2 mile ahead.
If you are staying anywhere near Highway 535, which is directly off of I4 in Lake Buena Vista, I strongly suggest you travel to the ballpark via Osceola Parkway. It’s a toll road, so you’ll have to pay around two bucks each way, but it’s worth going that way and avoiding 192 and its billion stoplights. Take the Parkway East for about four miles to Michigan Ave. (You’ll see a shopping center on the left that has, among other things, a Buffalo Wild Wings). Turn right on Michigan for about two miles until you get to 192. Turn left and the ballpark will be on
your left, about a mile down.
2. How can I watch the team work out?
Just show up at the ballpark — workouts begin Feb. 20 (pitchers and catchers) and Feb. 26 (full squad) and they’re open and free to the public. It’s a great time to get an up close view of your favorite players and you’re free to roam around all fields in the back of the complex, while the workouts are going on.
Workouts usually begin around 9:30 a.m. and last until noon or so. They’ll probably conclude a little earlier during the first five days, when it’s just pitchers and catchers. WORKOUTS ARE CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC ON HOME GAME DAYS. When the team is on the road during Grapefruit season, half the squad stays back and works out at the home complex. Those workouts are also open and free to the public.
3. Where can I obtain autographs?
Most players do not sign during the workout hours, but don’t be discouraged. Many players finish the workouts on the field, go into the clubhouse to hit the weight room, and then come back out to sign. Once the games start, the best place to obtain autographs is the patio located near the back of the clubhouse, down the left field line. Typically, once a player comes out of the game, he’ll stop and sign before he heads inside. Sometimes, he’ll first go inside to work out and then come out and sign.
Most players sign, but not at all do. Odds are, you’re going to have a great success rate getting autographs from the young players. The veteran guys are pretty good about signing as well but there are always exceptions.
If you bring four things for one player to sign, you’ve got “dealer” written all over you and you’re probably going to be blown off. Please don’t ruin it for everyone else, especially the kids. Game programs, ticket stubs and hats are great indications that you’re a well-meaning fan, not a dealer. Success rate odds increase heavily when you bring those items.
4. What else is there to do in Kissimmee?
Kissimmee is located next to the Happiest Place on Earth, so there’s plenty to do. Disney isn’t just an amusement park anymore; there’s something for everyone, including great nightlife for adults.
“Astroline” will begin its Florida broadcasts on Feb. 29. The show will air live every Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET (7 CT) at the ESPN Zone on the Boardwalk at Disney. There are lots of restaurants and nightclubs along the Boardwalk, so once Astroline is finished, you can find plenty to do in the same area.
In terms of dining, I’m partial to La Forchetta, located a couple of miles from the Osceola County Stadium complex at 321 S. John Young Parkway (when you’re driving away from the ballpark, turn left on JYP and go about a mile and a half. It’s on the left. If you get to the bridge, you’ve gone too far.) La Forchetta has delicious Italian home cooking, overseen by owner Maria Manzi. Get there early — the restaurant has only about 15 tables, and during Spring Training, it fills up quickly.
The Loop on Osceola Parkway has really grown over the last several years, and you’ll find just about anything you’re looking for there, from restaurants to brew pubs to shopping and a movie theater. Restaurants of note: Pei Wei, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, Bonefish Grill.
Downtown Kissimmee has been built up nicely in the last few years as well. If you turn left on Main (coming from the ballpark) and head toward Downtown, you’ll find a nice array of restaurants, sports bars and wine bars. A few of us Astros types are partial to Three Sisters — good bar food, cold beverages, great happy hour specials. Very casual setting.
5. When do games start?
The Astros open the Grapefruit League season at home this year. They will play the Nationals on March 3 beginning at 1:05 p.m. ET. All exhibition games will be aired on either 740 or 790 am. FS Houston will televise the games on March 20 vs. the Cardinals and April 3 vs. the White Sox (at Minute Maid Park).
6. How do I get tickets?
Individual game tickets can be purchased at astros.com, in person or by mail at the Osceola County Stadiums box office (home games only). You can also order by telephone and in person at Florida Ticketmaster outlets (home and road games). The box office is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET and on all game days.
Credit card purchases can be made by calling Florida Ticketmaster at (407) 839-3900. Mail orders for home games can be sent to Osceola County Stadium, 631 Heritage Park Way, Kissimmee, Fla., 34744. Checks should be made to Osceola County Stadium and include $5 postage and handling for each order.
Of course, the easiest way to order tickets is online at astros.com. There is an interactive map of the seating area at Osceola County Stadium that allows you to pick your own seat.
There are hotels everywhere, but it also might be more economical for a family or group of friends to rent a townhome. If you’re looking for last minute housing, try Bob Rivera, either via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone — 321-946-8889.