Boardwalk and Baseball
Boardwalk and Baseball was a theme park built near Haines City, Florida, on the east corner of the intersection of US 27 and Interstate 4. It replaced Circus World at the same location, and was owned by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (now Harcourt, a division of Reed Elsevier). It opened on February 14, 1987, and closed January 17, 1990.
The park recycled many of Circus World's rides and exhibits. The petting zoos were removed, the rides and shows were rethemed, and Baseball City Stadium was built on the site. There were several exhibits that borrowed artifacts from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. HBJ attracted the Kansas City Royals from Fort Myers, Florida, to make Baseball City Stadium their new spring training home and the site of their Class A Florida State League affiliate, the Baseball City Royals. They also had a Rookie-level affiliate in the Gulf Coast League, one of two lowest level minor leagues in the U.S. (along with the Arizona League).
In addition, ESPN taped a quiz bowl-style game show, Boardwalk and Baseball's Super Bowl of Sports Trivia, on the site. It aired in 1988 and 1989 and featured single-elimination tournaments of three-person teams representing U.S. colleges and universities. Chris Berman was the host. Washington State University won the 1988 tournament.
Although the park was considered superior to its predecessor, it was predicted to fail by industry observers at the grand opening. Its standard rides were considered no match for a Disney competitor. The Orlando Sentinel quoted both employees and industry experts who attributed its closing in 1990 to inept management by CEO Richard Howard. It quickly ran into financial ruins within 18 months of its grand opening. At that point, employee layoffs and reduced hours were used to try to cut costs. It closed before sunset for almost the entire year, rendering the costly antique style gas lighting useless (that cost over $1 million to install).
Decline and closure
Howard spent millions building the ultimate stadium for a Single-A baseball team, yet made no further investments in new rides and attractions throughout the park's life. It had exactly the same roster of rides and attractions from opening day in 1987 to its closing in 1990. Permits and plans for new roller coasters were made but never implemented. The fatal flaw was a stagnant attraction roster and an advertising budget 1/15th of its closest rival (Disney) — the only ride different from the previous Circus World was the Grand Rapids log flume. Had the new steel coaster that was planned been built, the park would likely not have gone down in history as the first corporate one to close (as many observers suggest in its Orlando Sentinel retrospective article). After all, it was considered to have the only "real" roller coasters in the Orlando area (Disney only had junior ones and this was a decade before Islands of Adventure was built). The Hurricane and Shuttle Loop were significant ones by 1987 standards, but the $25 million renovation made in 1987 didn't pay for a single attraction competitive with Disney.
HBJ sold its theme park assets (which included SeaWorld and Cypress Gardens) to Busch Entertainment Corporation on September 28, 1989, and they closed the park on January 17, 1990. Most of it was demolished except for the stadium and a building that held an IMAX theatre (the very first one at Circus World). The Baseball City Royals (FSL) were sold following the 1992 season and moved to Daytona Beach, Florida, becoming the Daytona Cubs, where they remain to this day. The Gulf Coast League Royals, who had moved at the same time to Ft. Myers, returned in 2000 for their final three years in Florida before being replaced by the Arizona League Royals. The Kansas City Royals moved their spring training home and entire Florida operations department to Surprise, Arizona in 2003. The stadium and theatre were demolished soon afterward.
After sitting idle for over a decade, the land was sold to developer Victor Posner in 2001. Posner Park, a retail complex with several big box stores, opened on the site in 2008, eliminating the final traces of the long gone park.
- Boardwalk and Baseball at Florida's Lost Tourist Attractions
- Boardwalk and Baseball Gallery ACTWON's Info Site
- Dizzy Rambler's Retrospective Boardwalk and Baseball History