Everything you need to know if you’re headed to Arizona or Florida to catch your favorite MLB team
Author Joe Lemire Illustration Sam Brewster
Spring training brings the annual promise of baseball and better weather, a particularly welcome warm retreat for those living up north. In my eight years as a baseball reporter circling the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues (in Arizona and Florida, respectively), I’ve learned a few things:
1 – Spring training is really long, owing to the bygone days of players holding offseason jobs and needing seven weeks to get into shape. It remains that length today largely because of stadium leases and ticket revenue (Arizona and Florida have ponied up public money for facilities because it’s a tourist boon). The players often find spring training monotonous, but it’s also the only time they have some semblance of a normal job, in which they report in the morning and return to the same home every afternoon.
2 – If your mission is to see as much baseball as possible, go to Arizona, where the logistics—short drives and shared facilities—can’t be matched. Will Ferrell managed to play 10 positions for 10 teams in five games on one day in the Valley of the Sun last year (albeit with the aid of an HBO-funded helicopter). Conversely, if your idea of sand is beach, not desert, go to Florida, where alternative entertainment options abound for casual fans.
3 – Spring training offers the exact opposite schedule of the regular season. Workouts start at dawn and end before evening, which puts players, writers, and fans on the same early-bird dinner circuit.
4 – The games don’t matter. I once overheard a pitcher, after giving up a home run, tell a teammate, “I never would have thrown him that pitch in real life.” Indeed, spring training is not real life, as players are training more than competing, but the access and proximity to the stars—first-row seats in the spring go for the cost of the bleachers in June—can’t be beat.
The Cactus League offers easy access to all 15 teams—and no threat of rainouts
① Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers
SURPRISE STADIUM, SURPRISE
② San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners
PEORIA SPORTS COMPLEX, PEORIA
③ Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers
CAMELBACK RANCH, GLENDALE
The park shared by the Dodgers and ChiSox has water features for both landscaping and irrigation. There’s even an orange grove to remind fans of the Dodgers’ former digs in Vero Beach, Florida.
④ Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians
GOODYEAR BALLPARK, GOODYEAR
⑤ Milwaukee Brewers
MARYVALE BASEBALL PARK, PHOENIX
⑥ Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies
SALT RIVER FIELDS AT TALKING STICK, SCOTTSDALE
The ultra-modern park used by the D-backs and Rockies has scenic mountain views and is located on a resort operated by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
⑦ Chicago Cubs
SLOAN PARK, MESA
The Cubs’ ballpark is the newest (2014) and biggest (15,000 seats) spring training facility. It boasts a Budweiser Party Deck and food trucks for local flavor.
⑧ Oakland A’s
HOHOKAM STADIUM, MESA
⑨ San Francisco Giants
SCOTTSDALE STADIUM, SCOTTSDALE
⑩ Los Angeles Angels
TEMPE DIABLO STADIUM, TEMPE
The Grapefruit League ups the ante with plenty of non-baseball diversions
① Washington Nationals
SPACE COAST STADIUM, VIERA
② New York Mets
TRADITION FIELD, PORT ST. LUCIE
③ Tampa Bay Rays
CHARLOTTE SPORTS PARK, PORT CHARLOTTE
④ Baltimore Orioles
ED SMITH STADIUM, SARASOTA
⑤ Pittsburgh Pirates
MCKECHNIE FIELD, BRADENTON
⑥ Toronto Blue Jays
FLORIDA AUTO EXCHANGE STADIUM, DUNEDIN
⑦ Philadelphia Phillies
BRIGHT HOUSE FIELD, CLEARWATER
⑧ Detroit Tigers
JOKER MARCHANT STADIUM, LAKELAND
⑨ Atlanta Braves
CHAMPION STADIUM, LAKE BUENA VIST
⑩ Houston Astros
OSCEOLA COUNTY STADIUM, KISSIMMEE
⑪ Minnesota Twins
HAMMOND STADIUM, FORT MYERS
⑫ Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals
ROGER DEAN STADIUM, JUPITER
Florida’s only shared training facility is the closest to Palm Beach and Miami; Roger Dean Stadium hosts four minor league teams during the regular season.
⑬ Boston Red Sox
JETBLUE PARK, FORT MYERS
The Red Sox’s spring abode is a replica Fenway, complete with Green Monster—but without the obstructed views and uncomfortable seats.
⑭ New York Yankees
GEORGE M. STEINBRENNER FIELD, TAMPA
The Boss did everything big, so, fittingly, his namesake ballpark is the Grapefruit League’s largest, in the circuit’s biggest city. There’s a life-size Steinbrenner statue outside.
Getty Images (CARAY)
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Former Red Sox stars Pedro Martínez and Manny Ramírez were notoriously tardy arrivals to camp. Martínez often blamed his father’s birthday celebration for his lateness, although one year his brother Ramón showed up on time. When Ramírez skipped the Sox’s post-championship visit to the White House in 2008—having also done so in 2005 to care for his ailing grandmother— President George W. Bush quipped, “Manny Ramírez isn’t here. I guess his grandmother died again.”
A derogatory nickname for players who put up big stats in the spring but can’t keep it up when the games count. The New York tabloids have dubbed Yankees star Alex Rodriguez—long criticized for poor postseasons— Mr. March on at least three occasions.
BEST SHAPE OF HIS LIFE?
Life’s certainties include death, taxes, and a ballplayer proclaiming to be in the Best Shape of His Life when he arrives at spring training. Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin made declarations to that effect in five straight springs. Three years ago, Reds outfielder Jay Bruce offered a counterpoint, saying, “I know everyone this time of year says they’re in the best shape of their life. I’m in the same shape.”
WORST SHAPE OF HIS LIFE?
In the days before offseason workout programs, players tended to show up to spring training in less-than-peak condition. (Take the late-19th-century Brooklyn Eagle headline: “The Men Are All Overweight.”) This phenomenon is not entirely a thing of the past. Last spring, the Internet poked fun at Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who showed up to his first spring training after leaving the San Francisco Giants—in part because they insisted on him following a weight regimen— looking even lumpier than usual.
Best Running Gag
At the start of spring training games, some public address announcers will give the temperature at the ballpark—and in the team’s home city. “It’s 82 degrees in Fort Myers … and 21 degrees in Minneapolis!”
Best Family-Friendly Ballparks
Many spring training ballparks have general admission lawn space, so bring a picnic blanket and stretch your legs. The Braves’ ballpark is part of the Disney-owned ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, so games can be a nice midday break from roller coasters. Many stadiums have a kids zone: The ones in Goodyear and Peoria, Arizona, for example, have Wiffle Ball fields (featuring ⅓-size infields), so get your gyro-ball on point.
Comedian Will Ferrell appeared in five spring games on the same day in 2015 for his HBO special, Ferrell Takes the Field. Mr. Baseball star Tom Selleck whiffed in his one at-bat for the Tigers in 1991. Bull Durham and For Love of the Game star Kevin Costner played with Mariners minor leaguers against the parent club in 2002; he failed to get a hit, made an error in the field, and nearly plunked manager Lou Piniella with a pitch. Country crooner Garth Brooks, a former high school player, participated in spring trainings for the Padres, Mets, and Royals, managing two hits (in 42 at-bats). After one single, Brooks noted, “I was even more surprised than the pitcher.”
The most famous pitch of Hall of Famer Randy Johnson’s career came in springtime. The 6-foot-10 lefthander, who routinely threw 100 mph, hurled a fastball in a 2001 spring training game that was intercepted by a low-flying bird on its way to the plate; the bird exploded in a puff of feathers.
TAPE MEASURE TIME
Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage reportedly approached slugger Dave Kingman before one spring game and said, “You know, we could get together on a long one.” During the game, Gossage grooved a pitch that Kingman slugged some 200 feet beyond the left-field fence. Gossage is said to have smiled on the mound.
Best for Autographs
Think early. That applies in the micro and macro. On any given day, the closest you can get to players is on the back fields during workouts and before games. Players tend to be on the field by 9 or 9:30 a.m., so try to catch them heading to their workouts or back from them around noon. Also, more broadly, the February workouts before games start tend to be more relaxed, and the players more accessible.
Clubs often invite former players as guest instructors, meaning spring training is your best bet to catch a glimpse of Hall of Famers like the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax, the Giants’ Willie Mays, the Phillies’ Mike Schmidt, the Royals’ George Brett, the Tigers’ Al Kaline, or the Yankees’ Reggie Jackson.
Getting spring (training) fever? Find the best routes to Arizona and Florida at united.com. During your flight, check out our new complimentary economy-cabin snacks.