Ahhh, Spring. One of my favorite seasons. Now, you may be saying, Erik, what are you talking about, it’s still the dead of winter! Well, to you I say, “correct.” HOWEVER! One of my favorite things about spring being just around the corner is the return of Major League Baseball! Which brings us to the real reason I'm mentioning spring… MLB SPRING TRAINING!! Pitchers and Catchers have all reported, and teams are in full swing (pun intended), gearing up for the first season of the new decade. What better way for a baseball fan to enjoy his or her spring than to travel to spring training to soak up a little sun and enjoy America’s Pastime.
Spring Training is a series of practices and exhibition games that precede the start of the MLB regular season. For those unfamiliar with how Spring Training goes, each of Major League baseball’s 60 teams are divided into two leagues, Arizona’s Cactus League and Florida’s Grapefruit League, with 30 teams in each state. Each team plays roughly 33 games per pre-season. Florida’s Grapefruit League plays in cities throughout central Florida, and the Cactus League is located entirely in the Valley of the Sun - the greater Phoenix area.
In Florida, the bulk of the games are on the East or West coasts. You can watch games from as far north as the greater St. Pete/Tampa area down to Fort Myers on the East Coast, and from Port St Lucie down to West Palm Beach in the West. 12 of the teams are near or on the coastline, with the remaining 3 in the center of the state. While spread out, they’re all a short drive’s distance from one another, giving sports fans the opportunity to travel the coast and see multiple teams with ease. I’ve always enjoyed visiting multiple parks when going to spring training. You may be a die-hard Red Sox fan who goes down to Fort Myers to watch the Sox play at JetBlue Park (Fenway South, as it’s known amongst Sox faithful), but while you’re at it, head on over to Port Charlotte to take in a Twins game. Park hoping is a fun way to get to see the state, as well as a lot of great baseball.
While a regular season MLB game can cost a small fortune, spring training costs are more reasonable. The cost of tickets, food, drinks and souvenirs can do a number on your wallet. For the most part, spring training is a far more affordable alternative for fans to enjoy world-class baseball at a discount. Average ticket prices for the 2020 spring training season range from $27.50 (Cincinnati Reds) to over $73 (San Francisco Giants). Now, that’s average, so you can certainly find cheaper tickets AND more expensive ones. You just need to do your due diligence. In general, concessions tend to be a bit cheaper at spring training games, while MLB licensed souvenirs are still roughly the same cost as the regular season. A Yankees hat is a Yankees hat no matter what time of year you buy it, I suppose.
Getting to spring training is easy for the majority of Americans, as both Phoenix Airport and most Central Florida airports cater to most domestic airlines. For all Cactus League games, visitors would fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. 20 different airlines fly into PHX each day, including JetBlue, Delta, American, United, Southwest and more. While the Grapefruit League is a bit more spread out, all teams are located in Central Florida, south of Orlando and North of Miami. Tampa International, Sarasota-Bradenton International and West Palm Beach International Airports are all within close proximity of multiple spring training facilities. Don’t forget the most important part - the car rental. There are no bullpens or dugouts attached to any major airports, people. Which means you’re gonna need some wheels. While some may try to avoid a rental car. You’ll have so much more freedom and get to see so much more baseball if you’re able to bounce around to stadiums at will. Many spring training travel packages are offered by everyone from Major League Baseball to National Car Rental - who offer dozens of options for spring training travel packages.
It’s a whole lotta baseball - over 250 games are played in more than a dozen ballparks in EACH league. 33 games per big league team, in addition to scrimmages, inter-squad games and more. During spring training, you get a chance to see the future of baseball. It’s not just starting big leaguers who play in spring training games. New players from all levels of the minor leagues are also at spring training fighting for a position. It allows the established, veteran players practice time, but also lets the young players show off their talents in hopes of catching a coach's eye, and a spot on the roster. Anyone who says spring training games aren't competitive wasn’t paying very close attention. Spring training is also a great way to get up-close and personal with some of your favorite MLB stars. Autograph seekers are in heaven as players from all across the world of baseball, retired former players, established MLB stars and young Minor League prospects all interact with fans alike.
Last Spring I was able to head out to Glendale, Arizona to attend games at Camelback Ranch, home to the National League powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox of the American League. It’s fairly common for MLB teams to share the use of facilities, especially those as large as Camelback. It was a blast walking the grounds and watching players of all levels run fielding drills, hit batting practice, pitch in the tunnels and more. This particular compound has 12 full practice diamonds and 3 practice infields. Fans spend all day walking around watching different practices and hoping to score an autograph from their favorite players. The main stadium where the full squad games are played seats over 13,000 people - plenty of room for everyone to enjoy some ball.
While you’re here, you’re by no means limited to baseball games. All but three Grapefruit League teams are on the Florida Coast from Clearwater Beach, to Sarasota, on down to Fort Myers and Cape Coral. So you can drive the coast, stopping to see your favorite baseball players, while also enjoying some of the gulf coast’s finest beaches. The Cactus League is all within 47 miles of each other, throughout the greater Phoenix area. That means visitors can enjoy all that Phoenix, Tempe, Glendale and Scottsdale have to offer. Collectively they have some of the best dining, drinking, nightlife, cultural events and outdoor in the southwest. Afterall, you can’t live on hotdogs, peanuts and beer very long… can you?!?!
Here’s a helpful guide to both the Grapefruit and Cactus League facilities…
Grapefruit League Cities and Teams:
About The Author
Erik Hastings, a.k.a. Erik the Travel Guy is an EMMY award-winning television personality who speaks directly to consumers who can't afford to "get their vacations wrong". He is the host and managing editor of the internationally syndicated television series "Beyond Your Backyard" for public broadcasting stations (PBS) and other networks/VOD platforms. Erik leads an incredibly talented team of industry pros and is the editorial driving force of his platform. While the travel industry directly supports millions of families worldwide, Erik believes travel makes the world a better place. Through exploration and discovery, he has learned that travel brings cultures together and he eagerly shares that spirit with his viewers.
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I am on a mission to get you traveling more often. As the host of the Emmy award- winning, nationally syndicated television television for PBS and the Create channel, "Beyond Your Backyard," I travel (on average) 25 weeks per year. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet cool people, experience new places, eat delicious food and work with the best production crew in the world. Hopefully, through this blog, you will join me on my travels and be reminded just how exciting it is to be alive!