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March 27, 2012 at 8:00 AM

First Take from JetBlue Park

The Red Sox substituted intimacy for extravagance with their new, state-of-the-art complex. It was difficult trying to be in six places at the old facility, but it’s nothing compared to navigating the new complex, which I recently had the chance to explore over the course of a few days.

As you walk into the backfields, which are past the entrance to the pseudo Green Monster, you find yourself surrounded by four baseball fields. There are two to your left and right and two ahead of you, and like the old Player Development Complex, home plate from all four fields points to the same spot, so theoretically, you could watch four baseball games at once.

If you make a right and continue down the path, there are two more fields in the distance as well as a practice field for agility drills. This time, the intersection is not as friendly. From this vantage point there is only one infield in view, and you are at the edge of three outfields, so when the games are being played at these fields it takes a lot longer to run back and forth. Ironically, Field 1 takes the longest to get to from a fan’s point of view, but it’s the closest field to the Major League clubhouse and the players’ parking lot.

There are a few notable differences at the new facility. Instead of taking Exit 138 and driving down Martin Luther King Boulevard, I took Exit 131 and drove down Daniels Parkway. This complex is not located in the inner-city suburbs of Fort Myers. It’s a much nicer location, and unlike seasons past where the stadium was separate from the players’ development complex, everything is attached now. It almost comes out of nowhere as you’re driving, and it’s shocking when you finally see it.

Its size is overwhelming, but at this point, it’s not nearly as overwhelming as the excitement of exploring a brand new complex. While parking was free at the old player development complex, it is difficult to evade the $9 parking fee at Fenway South unless you arrive around 9 am.

In theory, fans are not allowed into the complex until around 9 am, but you can hear players taking batting practice as early as 8:30. I was expecting the minor leaguers to come out around 9:30, as they had in past years, but they start filing out as early as 8:45. Major Leaguers will also work out on the fields in the back of the complex about four hours before their game.

At the old complex, players had no choice but to pass by fans on their way out to the fields. This year, the clubhouse is in the back of the stadium, separated by the batting cages, which are not accessible to the fans. Thus, the players now have circuitous ways out to the fields through which they can avoid the fans. The major leaguers typically take advantage of this on their way out. When it comes to the minor leaguers, though, they came through the same way that the fans enter the complex—at least on their way into workouts. At this point it becomes a little bit more familiar: the players divided up based off of estimations of which affiliate players will start with.

Now that the team has the luxury of having everything in one place, things can get a little hectic when both the major leaguers and minor leaguers working out. That being said, once you arrive at the complex, you need to plan on staying there until you’re done. There’s no leaving to go grab a quick bite in between morning workouts and minor league spring training games unless you want to hit merciless traffic and pay for parking. You can’t get a bite to eat at the complex unless you have a ticket to that day’s game as all the food venues are past the ticket stiles. I suggest bringing lunch.

Without a schedule, it was difficult to discern a pattern of when pitchers left to throw their bullpens or go inside for conditioning. It almost felt like there was no method to their madness. I was, however, able to assign some regularity to the infield drills: the players stretch, throw, do infield drills, pitcher-fielding-practice, and then take batting practice until about 11 or 11:30.

Of course there are exceptions to the schedule. If the affiliates are playing the Orioles in Sarasota, the bus will leave as early as 9:30. This presumably applies to when they play the Rays in Port Charlotte as well. One benefit of the new location, however, is there is never a rush when the affiliates play the Twins considering their complex is now only a five-minute ride away.

Although the minor league spring training schedule says that the games start at 1:00, they will sometimes start at 12:30 without any given warning. The players have to be on the field about a half hour before the games start.

Despite these differences there are still certainly familiar elements. As big as the complex is, once the games start, they are typically at adjacent fields. The pitchers still meticulously chart the games, and the players who aren’t playing in the games sit with the fans in the bleachers. The complex is conquerable, but you have to be willing to adapt to the flexibility that is minor league spring training.

Elizabeth Dreeson is a Special Contributor to SoxProspects.com. Follow her on Twitter @Eli_Dreesox.