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Friday, Apr 18th

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Champion Stadium / Atlanta Braves

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The spring-training home of the Atlanta Braves, Champion Stadium (formerly known as Disney Field, Disney's Wide World of Sports, Cracker Jack Stadium and The Ballpark at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex) is architecturally one of the flashier venues for spring training.It's also one of the largest: with 9,500 seats (80 percent between the first and third bases), only the largest Arizona stadiums can complete in terms of sheer size.

FAST FACTS

Year Opened: 1997
Capacity: 9,500
Dimensions: 335L, 385LC, 400C, 385RC, 335R
Playing Surface: Grass
Website: disney.com
Address/Directions: 700 S. Victory Lane, Lake Buena Vista, Disney World. Lake Buena Vista is located in the southwest corner of Orlando. Take I-4 to Hwy. 192 West and follow signs to Magic Kingdom/Wide World of Sports, right onto Victory Way. (Directions at Disney World are clear and plentiful, but curiously there's no signage that points the way to the ballpark. Instead, follow the signs to Wide World of Sports.)

The ballpark sits within a larger sports complex in the southwestern corner of Disney World; next door, there's the Milk House (an indoor arena used for AAU events), and close by there are tennis courts, a track-and-field complex, youth and adult baseball and softball fields, and other various athletic fields. Between baseball seasons and when the Rays are out of town the stadium and the complex is used frequently for a variety of AAU and NAIA college events.

Having most of the seats crammed into grandstand does have its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, we were sitting in the last row of the second deck (an open-air luxury suite was right behind us), but the view of the field was excellent. But these views came at a price: we were definitely crammed into narrower seats and there was very little leg room between rows. We saw a night game, but it didn't look like the stadium afforded very much relief from the hot Florida sun: the second deck doesn't cover much of the first deck, while there's no roof at all shading the second deck. Also, there were no beverage holders attached to seats, so you pretty much have to hold onto your beverages in fear of someone kicking them over.

The design is in a Florida Spanish Mission design (you'll find similar design motifs scatted throughout the state), with some Art Deco touches, such as the large left-field scoreboard. The scoreboard was a disappointment, as you can tell by the picture on the left: huge parts of it were covered up, probably because the sponsors underneath the coverings had signed up as Orlando Rays sponsors and not as sponsors for spring training. The scoreboard is equipped with fireworks, some of which are fired after the singing of the National Anthem.

If you find the grandstand seating too confining -- which you probably will, especially if you're there with a family -- get to the game early and score some of the berm seating down the left-field line and across the outfield to the scoreboard. Except for a bare-earth walking area in the back, the berm slopes down toward the playing field. It had rained the entire day before we visited the ballpark, but the berm didn't appear to be worse for wear: there was no mud anywhere, and the grass appeared to be in excellent shape (surprising, since we visited quite late in spring-training season). If you do plan on sitting on the berm, don't bother bringing a lawn chair, as the ground has too much of an angle for a chair. Instead, bring a large blanket and plop down in left-center field.

CONCESSIONS
For spring training, the concession stands feature standard fare: hot dogs, burgers, fries. Outside the first-base side of the concourse there's an open-air concession area with stands selling Philly cheese steaks, pizza, Slushies, and more.

FOR THE KIDS
For being smack-dab in the Happiest Place in the Known Universe, there's little to entertain the kids: there's no children's play area and no activities geared toward the young.

PARKING
There's a paved parking lot right outside the stadium; part of it is sold with a surcharge as priority parking, and part of it is free of charge as general parking. You'll need to arrive really early to score a paved parking spot. If you arrive closer to game time -- as we did -- you'll be stuck quite a ways from the ballpark parking on a grassy field. Despite some torrential rains the day before, this field was dry and walkable, however.