Chain Of Lakes Park (also known as Chain O’ Lakes Park) is located at 500 Cletus Allen Drive in Winter Haven, Florida. The ballpark opened in 1966 as the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox previously had trained in Payne Park in Sarasota, Florida, from 1933 until 1958, with the exception of the war years from 1943 to 1945. From 1959 until their move to Winter Haven in 1966, they trained in Scottsdale, Arizona. In 1971, the Red Sox relocated to Winter Haven their minor league spring training operation in Ocala, Florida.
After the 1992 season, the Red Sox departed Winter Haven and relocated their spring training headquarters to Fort Myers, Florida, and City of Palms Park. All told, the Red Sox trained at Winter Haven for 26 seasons, the longest they ever had, or ever have, trained at one location.
In 1993, the Cleveland Indians moved their spring training home Chain of Lakes Park.
Since 1947, the Indians had trained at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Arizona.
The Cleveland Indians continued to train at Chain of Lakes Park until the end of the 2008 spring season, returning in 2009 to Arizona, and Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Arizona.
Minor league baseball was played Chain of Lakes Park every year that a major league team trained there as well, beginning with the Florida State League Winter Haven Sun Sox in 1966, the Winter Haven Mets in 1967, the Winter Haven Red Sox from 1969 to 1992, and the Gulf Coast League Indians from 1993 to 2008.
Winter Haven had a covered grandstand from first base around the third base, providing fans plenty of shade from the Florida sun.
Although the ballpark was renovated prior to the Indians’ arrival in 1993, Chain of Lake Park retained much of its 1960s “charm.”
It was a wonderful place to watch a ballgame, whether from the grandstand or on the outfield berm behind left field.
Although not quite like Wrigley Field and Waveland Avenue in Chicago, a condominium development beyond right field provided owners of the units who back up to the ballpark an excellent view of the action on the field.
The same can be send for view provided the pitchers in the bullpen just beyond the right field corner.
The third base grandstand and bleachers were set into the side of a small hill which provided a nice touch of unencumbered green space.
One downside of the ballpark’s design was most of the concessions and souvenir stands were located down the third base line, making the area quite jammed during the game.
During the Indian’s time at Winter Haven, one of the true pleasures of attending a game there was the chance to meet and talk with Hall of Famer Bob Feller, who was a fixture at Indians spring training. For a modest charge of $10 he would autograph any item you brought with you, or for an additional $5 sign one of the pictures he had on hand.
When grandstand seating for games sold out, it was still possible to buy a ticket and sit on the outfield berm. Sometimes it felt as if there were just as many fans sitting past the left field fence as there fans in the grandstand.
Once the Indians announced their intentions to depart Chain of Lakes Park after the 2008 season, you could sense the disappointment of those who worked at the ballpark that professional baseball no longer would be played in Winter Haven.
For several years after the Indians departure, it looked as if Chain of Lakes Park might become yet another lost ballpark, as plans were floated for demolishing the site and constructing a shopping center and condominiums.
The good news is that, at least for the foreseeable future, baseball will continue to be played at Chain of Lakes Park. Winter Haven has turned the former spring training site into a first class amateur baseball venue with events held by such organizations as The World Amateur Baseball Association and college invitational tournaments, including the RussMatt Central Florida Collegiate Baseball Invitational.