It’s spring here in Florida and many a young man’s (and older men as well) fancy turns to romance. The romance of baseball spring training, that is. If there weren’t already enough reasons to come to Florida in March – escaping harsh cold winters up North, college spring break, Disney World, beautiful beaches, etc. – the crack of the bat and cry of “Play Ball” are the siren calls to diehard baseball fans to fly south for the “Grapefruit” League. More than a million fans made the annual pilgrimage to Florida in 2015. The players have been training hard the last few weeks. The first games are scheduled for March 1st.
Where I live on the west coast of Florida, there is a wide choice of where to go and what team to watch. Take your pick from the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin and the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater. If you don’t mind an hour or so away drive from Tampa, catch the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Field in Lakeland, the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton and the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota. Drive further to Ft Myers if you’re a Boston Red Sox or Minnesota Twins fan or see our local boys the Tampa Rays, who used to do spring training at the old Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, but now train down in Port Charlotte. In all, fifteen of 30 MLB teams compete in exhibition games around the state.
In contrast with regular season MLB games, ticket prices are low and seating capacities smaller. For the best seats, reserve well in advance or consider buying a season ticket (generally 15 or so games). Plan on day games seeing capacity crowds. Night games do happen, but are rare. It is possible to get tickets a few days before a game. A quick check of seating availability prior to posting this article showed tickets available for the March 2nd games for both the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin as well as for the Yankees vs the Detroit Tigers in Tampa. (Of course, the seats for the Yankees game are in the highest seating section.)
The relaxed atmosphere and smaller venues permit much greater player-fan contact. Major league teams schedule regimented pre-game autograph sessions.
Expect to fill your scorecard with some new player names. Many spring training invites will wind up in the minors when the big club goes back North. Remembering some of those names as they progress in their careers is part of the fun. It could give you a great story to tell friends later to say “I remember seeing (insert name of player) when he was at spring training”.
Want to rub shoulders with the players? Be on the lookout at local restaurants that players frequent when in town for spring training. In Clearwater, Lenny’s Deli down the road from Bright House Field is a hangout for Phillies players. The bonus is the food is really good especially their house made chicken noodle soup heaped with a generous amount of chicken.
To find out more information, check various web sites, including:
For the tech savvy smartphone user, there’s the Florida Grapefruit League Mobile Phone App that puts all the information you need at your fingertips.
For those who prefer their baseball games outside, it’s a warm-weather exercise in nostalgia. Sun and baseball fun, it’s a home run no matter how you look at it. Oh, and don’t forget to wear sunscreen.