aNewDomain — Spring training is in full bloom across Arizona and Florida with an equal 15 Major League Baseball clubs in each state getting ready for a season that stretches into early October and possibly beyond.
That means fans of all 30 teams are making trips to sun-splashed locales to see their favorite players in action. Before hopping a plane or the highway to check out the Boys of Summer in the late winter, you need a game plan and reality check.
With that in mind, we present realities of spring training, both good and bad news.
The stars won’t always align
The sad reality is that long bus rides for Cactus or Grapefruit League games are mostly for rookies, unproven players or guys who need to get in their work. Major League Baseball requires each team to suit up no fewer than two regulars, but that definition can be a little slippery. If you’re a Boston Red Sox fan, don’t expect many of your team’s starters to take the 400-mile round trip from Fort Myers to Viera for a game against the Nationals.
Unless you have kids, skip the outfield seats
Unlike major league stadiums, spring training parks don’t have actual seats in the outfield. Instead, architects have installed grass berms to allow fans to soak up the Arizona or Florida sun. That’s great if you don’t want to pay attention to the game. But any real fan would rather sit in the stands and follow the action. That being said, grass seats are great if you have kids in tow.
It’s easier to get autographs
Although the newer parks are built to cut down on access, it’s still easier to catch players for their signatures during spring training. The atmosphere is much more laid back, especially during the first couple weeks of play, and players make themselves more available. Most parks allow fans to come from the outfield seats to stand along the baselines to get autographs. That doesn’t always happen during the regular season. Just make sure to bring your own pen or Sharpie for the players to use.
Bargains are getting tougher to find
Over the past few years, major league clubs have figured out that spring training is big business and they can charge a premium for glorified practice games. A friend and I paid $35 apiece last week for a Cubs home game against the Reds in Mesa, Ariz. Sadly, though, it can be a whole lot worse. Seats to see the World Series champ San Francisco Giants, if you can get them, run nearly $70 apiece. For spring training! Not that long ago, when three teams trained in Tucson, I used to buy great seats for less than $20. Maybe the recession really is over.
Smaller parks equal better views
The good thing about spring training parks is that they’re scale models of the regular season versions. Sloan Park, the Cubs’ spring home, is the largest with seating for 15,000. That means fans are a lot closer to the action. There really is no such thing as a bad seat at spring training games.
See tomorrow’s stars today
Many players in the big leagues today have worn uniform numbers in the 60s or 70s during March games. Once spring training contests get in the sixth inning or after, the kids take over, offering a preview of coming attractions. While many of the youngsters may never put on the uniform of their parent clubs, several will make an impact on the big league level at some point.
Prepare for good weather
News flash: This has been a rough winter along the eastern seaboard. Sitting in the sun sounds pretty good, huh? Temperatures in Arizona and Florida right now likely won’t be replicated in New York or Boston until June. No time like the present to spend a week down south. Florida teams, of course, are more prone to rainouts than their Arizona counterparts.
Bring a cap and sunscreen
This might sound painfully obvious but it beats an equally painful sunburn. Fans whose skin has been covered up against the winter cold need to ease their way into summer sun and many spring training parks put customers directly into potentially harmful rays. Be prepared.
Get there early
Many spring training parks have only a couple of ways to get there. That means traffic jams for those who get there at the last minute. I usually attempt to get to the park an hour early or so. That time frame also allows time to walk around the stadiums and check out dining options or things for the kids to do.
Do more than just see baseball
Fans who choose Arizona for their spring trip are a two-hour drive from the stunning red rocks of Sedona or a slightly longer trek from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Florida, of course, has theme parks and beaches, two huge draws for families. Both states are also known worldwide for their golf, for fans on buddy trips. It wouldn’t hurt to skip a day or two of baseball games in order to take in the sites and make the most of a vacation.
Photo of Cincinnati Reds-Chicago Cubs game at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz., by Rodney Campbell.