Review by Mike
Champion Stadium was the home of the Orlando Rays of the Southern League. Talk about a change of scenery. Prior to 2000, the Orlando Rays played their games in cozy Tinker Field, dwarfed by the monstrous Citrus Bowl football stadium looming over the right field fence. In 2000 they moved to a relative palace of a ballpark, in the feudal city-state that is Disney World, part of the large Wide World of Sports theme area.
The architecture is Spanish-style with towers and arches and terra-cotta tiled roofs. The striking yellow color also helps it jump out of the surrounding landscape. It's a double-deck ballpark with all seating quite close to the field. The last seat of the upper deck has as nice a view as the first row of the lower.
There are two concourses, one at the top of the lower deck, under the overhang where one can wait on line for food and watch the game at the same time. A walk back through the tunnel brings you to the other, grander concourse with more concessions and noble arches and such. Unfortunately, the game I attended was the last of the season and everything was closed except for one food stand behind home plate, where the lines were horrendous.
Despite all of the positives, Champion Stadium was lacking. Maybe it was just the last day of the season blues, but the crowd was sparse and disinterested, the PA announcer was horribly annoying, the field itself was worn and brown, and all of the architectural niceties were used on the exterior. The interior was bland and utilitarian. Still, a nice park, but not nearly as nice as you imagine it will be as you walk up to it, marveling at the lovely facade. Alas, the Rays are long gone and so is minor league baseball. The ballpark is still there. It hosted the Atlanta Braves during spring training for a while, but they left as well. Kind of a waste of a nice ballpark. Apparently, not everyone is going to Disney World...
The stadium ads were presented in an interesting way. Instead of draping them on the outfield fence, they were a series of rigid pennants on flagpoles high above the left field fence. It was quite original and good looking. It almost didn't seem like advertising. Another unusual thing was the mascot, which was a bear, strange for a team called the Rays. I can only assume it's the mascot from the old Orlando Cubs, but wearing a Rays uniform. 20 million for a ballpark and you can't buy a new mascot outfit? And what's with the "roof"? It's a series of attractive beams that extend out over the upper deck. It looks cool, but serves no function at all by way of protecting fans from the elements.