Fifteen years ago today, one of the world’s top sports venues officially opened its doors: the Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
The facility might not be a household name like Fenway, Lambeau or Old Trafford, but it has welcomed literally millions of athletes and fans during the past decade and a half.
The inspiration of former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker and Disney executive Reggie Williams, the sports complex was built in the heart of the world’s most popular vacation destination with the hope of giving youth and recreational athletes the opportunity to compete on the same fields as professional and world-class competitors.
Since the grand opening event — a MLB spring training game between the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves (see gallery above), who train there annually — the complex has welcomed athletes of all ages and abilities, and the facility only continues to grow.
ESPN analyst and the newest inductee into the Major League Baseball Hall-of-Fame, Barry Larkin, played shortstop for the Reds during the grand opening game.
“I remember the quality of the facility and thinking that it was very much like a big league venue,” Larkin said.
“Very nice facilities, great amenities, great fan and player experience. It felt like we were opening up a major league stadium.”
Now branded ESPN, the complex spans 270 acres (originally 200) and accommodates more than 30 different sports across 10 venues. It also serves as a proving ground for the ESPN Innovation Lab, which tests emerging technologies, such as 3D, throughout the year.
On the day we congratulate the Wide World of Sports team, it’s only fitting ESPN is there today to televise the Yankees-Braves spring training game at 1 p.m. ET.
And while our cameras are fixed on Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter and other MLB stars, you can bet the next field over there’s probably a young kid or two competing on that lush turf, hoping to perhaps follow their footsteps to the big leagues one day.