There are few places that are literally out of this world. Viera, Fla., is one spot in Minor League Baseball that can definitely claim that.
Viera is just inland from an area known as the Space Coast, aptly nicknamed for being the site of NASA's Kennedy Space Center and a hub for our nation's space program. Rockets and space shuttles launch to outer regions of our planet on a regular basis; the Pegasus XL has a mission planned for Wednesday and Space Shuttle Discovery has its next launch scheduled for May 10. Appropriately, the area code for the Space Coast is 321, the final three numbers of a launch countdown.
Viera's history can be traced to 1912, when Andrew Duda and his family came to Florida from Czechoslovakia. Duda began a small celery farm that grew into one of the world's largest family-owned agricultural enterprises. His descendants planned on creating a special community in the early 1980s, establishing The Viera Company. The community has grown considerably since then, encompassing close to 7,000 homes. It is expected to grow to approximately 38,000 acres as there are plans to develop 12,000 acres on the west side of I-95.
The Space Coast itself is a 72-mile stretch of beaches, space age attractions and protected wildlife refuges in Brevard County. It also is home to the Florida State League's Brevard County Manatees, a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate, as well as the Spring Training headquarters of the Washington Nationals, who play at Space Coast Stadium in Viera.
Space Coast Stadium, which opened in 1994, is more than just a fitting name as it is a tribute to America's interstellar efforts. The foul poles are named Challenger and Columbia for the two space shuttles that didn't come home and a replica space shuttle statue is erected outside the stadium. The balconies at Space Coast Stadium serve as a great viewing spot for shuttle and rocket launches, not to mention home run launches by the Manatees. Space Coast Stadium was also a site for a Bush/Cheney campaign rally in 2004, with the President flying in via helicopter and landing right on the field.
The promotions at Space Coast Stadium are out of this world as well, with a lot of credit going to what is considered the top promo staff in the Minors. Brevard County will have a promotion at every home game this season. The giveaways will include cowbells, magnetic schedules, banners, team photos, posters and lunch boxes. They will host events like the Intern Olympics, an NFL Celebrity softball game, Dogs on Us and Dress Like A Pirate Night, Wedding Renewal Night, Guaranteed Win Night, an Earth Day celebration, post-game Karaoke as well as several fireworks displays.
World records are possible too, as the Manatees will open their gates very early on Sept. 2 to try and break their own record of 4,218 first pitches, which was set last season.
When the baseball Manatees are not in action, real manatees can be spotted in the region. A manatee is an herbivorous aquatic mammal that is sometimes referred to as a sea cow and is the official state marine mammal. They can be found year-round in the local waters, marinas and canals of the Space Coast, as it is home to one of the largest populations of West Indian Manatees in the United States.
Other attractions in Viera include Avenue Viera, a retail center in a park-like setting that includes a 16-screen theater with stadium seats. Golfers taking in the Viera scene can get acquainted with Duran Golf Club, an 18-hole, par-72 course that was designed by architect Lewis "Chip" Powell. Duran possesses a par-3 lighted nine-hole course too.
The coastline near Viera is a hot spot for vacationers and is billed as the closest beaches to Orlando, which is 35 miles west of the shore. Even the beaches along the Space Coast's shoreline have their own appeal. Canaveral National Seashore stretches for 23 miles along the north end of Brevard County and possesses natural undeveloped beaches. Sebastian Inlet State Park has over 35 miles of public beaches. The Cocoa Beach Pier is an 800-foot landmark that is popular for beach volleyball, surfing and fishing. Nightclubs and the world's largest surf shop, Ron Jon Surf Shop, can be found along Cocoa Beach as well.
Viera is a short drive from Port Canaveral, one of the world's most popular cruise ports. Cruise lines such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Holland America and the Disney Cruise Line sail out of the port.
Viera also is near the communities of Cocoa Beach, Cocoa Village and Melbourne, which offers numerous dining options. Bernard's Surf in Cocoa Beach has been around since 1948 and brings fresh seafood from their fishing fleet. Café Margaux in Cocoa Village specializes in creative French and European cuisine. In Melbourne, Bonefish Willy's is a riverfront grill with seafood, an oyster bar, an open-air deck and a dockside tiki bar.
Melbourne is the home of the Brevard Zoo, a wildlife habitat that houses jaguars, sloths, monkeys, alligators, crocodiles, wolves and otters. Visitors can hand-feed giraffes and parrots and observe endangered white rhino, antelope, exotic birds and other African animals.
With the Brevard County Manatees and so many other attractions, Viera and the Space Coast power into another stratosphere.
Eric Justic is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.