Baseball season is almost back! Royals player appearances have been happening in Arizona as Spring Training is about to go into full swing in Surprise. But have you ever wondered about the Royals Spring Training history?Well once upon a time, long before the Royals were established in 1969, the Terry Family of Fort Myers, Florida donated approximately 25 acres of cow pasture to Lee County in 1921. Amidst nothing but bulls and heifers, a small wooden grandstand, seating no more than 600 fans, was erected on the site about a mile east of downtown Fort Myers.
The stadium was built as a Spring Training ballpark for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics in 1925. The park then became the Spring Training home of the Philadelphia Athletics from 1925 until 1936, and the Cleveland Indians from 1941 until 1942.
The stadium remained in its 1925 condition until 1943, when it was destroyed in a fire. However, in 1955 the park was rebuilt. This time, instead of wood, the stadium was made from steel and concrete. Just like the Three Little Pigs, Lee County learned that steel and concrete was the smarter way to go.
This new Terry Park became the Spring Training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the next 14 years. But in 1969, the Pirates left and the brand new expansion team, the Kansas City Royals, settled into their astro-turfed Southwest Florida home away from home.
In 1970, MLB All Star, Gold Glove award winner, and Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer Amos Otis ventured to the gulf side and history started to be made. Amos remembers, “Terry Park was unique because it had a turf infield and natural grass outfield. Overall I enjoyed the park though - great fan turnout and just a good family atmosphere.”
One of the best stories comes from 1985 World Series Champion Darryl Motley, “I remember Terry Park had a deep center field - 420 feet. No one ever hit it out of center, until I saw Steve Balboni do it,” Motley fondly recalled. “But my best story has to be when Deion Sanders (NFL Hall of Famer) came up to me when we were both in AAA and said, ‘Hey Darryl, do you remember me?’ Of course, I knew who he was. but didn’t have a clue that we had met before. And then he smiled and said, ‘I was your bat boy at Terry Park!’ Terry Park was wonderful to the Royals during their tenure there, but soon a new deal popped up that everyone thought was a wonderful opportunity.
The Kansas City Royals moved to Baseball City Stadium in Davenport, Florida in 1988. That stadium opened on February 7, 1988, and was designed to be the cornerstone of the Boardwalk and Baseball theme park. The Royals were quick to jump at the opportunity to play in a brand new stadium and signed on for a 15-year contract.
However, the Boardwalk and Baseball theme park was very rapidly becoming a financial disaster. The owners and developers of the park put very little money into it, and almost all the money went into the Baseball Stadium. The property was originally a failed park called Circus World, and the owners simply renovated and re-opened the park, without adding new rides, hoping that the renaming, along with the stadium, would allow it to compete with nearby Walt Disney World. Sure Royals fans are devoted, but when there’s a choice between Disney World or Boardwalk and Baseball, the theme park winner is pretty obvious.
Even as the Boardwalk and Baseball theme park failed, Kansas City would continue to use the Baseball City Stadium, as it was a very modern spring training facility and drew very solid attendance numbers. In 1990, the theme park closed, but Anheuser-Busch kept the Baseball City Stadium open rather than break their contract that they had with the Kansas City Royals.
When the contract finally ran out at the end of the 2002 season, the Royals moved all of their spring training and rookie league operations West to Surprise, Arizona, where a brand new $20 million park was being built and was offered to any team willing to leave Florida.
Arizona had only eight teams in the Cactus League in 1989, with the other fourteen in Florida’s Grapefruit League. By 2011, the split was even, with 15 teams training in each location.
The Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers share a fantastic facility in Surprise, 25 miles northwest of Phoenix. If you’ve never been to Surprise, Arizona, it should definitely be added to your bucket list.
You never know who might make a Royals player appearance. In 2004, Country Superstar Garth Brooks played with the team for a day and even got a hit off Mike Myers of the Mariners. He then kindly signed autographs for over an hour after the game.
The trick to a wonderful Spring Training trip is to head out early to the Surprise facility and watch both major and minor leaguers play on the six full practice fields located on the 124-acre site. Bring your baseballs and memorabilia to be autographed, because this will the best access to Royals player appearances that you will have all season. To be honest, the Texas Ranger side of the Surprise Recreation Campus is slightly more accessible for fans, but the Royals side of the park also gives many opportunities for fans to meet players.
The 17th annual Surprise Spring Training Season will kick off on Saturday, February 23rd at Surprise Stadium – featuring Surprise’s home teams - the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. There is so much baseball being played in the Cactus League during the Spring Training season that you can’t even take it all in. But if you follow the Kansas City Royals around, you will get a chance to visit some of the most beautiful ball parks in the country - all centrally located for your convenience.
Here’s where the Cactus League teams play their home games:
The Reds and Indians share Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear.
The Dodgers and White Sox share Camelback Ranch in Glendale.
The Rockies and Diamondbacks share Salt River Field in Scottsdale.
The Rangers and Royals share Surprise Stadium in Surprise.
The Padres and Mariners share Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria.
Bring your sun screen and a jacket - the weather is as fickle there as it is here in KC.