Over the years, I have heard many people talk about how they travel to Arizona or Florida for Major League Baseball’s Spring Training. For me, it seemed a bit overwhelming and slightly confusing – there are two leagues, lots of games, different facilities, and busy schedules. After my first trip to Spring Training in Arizona, I wanted to share some basic tips and tricks for first-timers like me:
Spring Training is Preseason
This means practices and exhibitions games before the regular season. Every league has something like this as it allows players to get back into the swing of things and new players can test out new roles. Baseball has a league in Florida known as the Grapefruit League, and a league in Arizona known as the Cactus League. All play happens within the same league.
As someone who likes to just show up and kind of wing it when I arrive, this one was really challenging for me. Some advanced thought is necessary for Spring Training as there is a lot going on in a short time period. There are 15 teams in one league, and they play in various locations and times.
Don’t be fooled – Surprise and Mesa are an hour away from each other. Each team has a home field, which is helpful in planning, but you still need to figure out what teams, practices, and games you want to see. Don’t try to wing it when you get there; you’ll find yourself missing out on things like catching home-run balls at batting practice or getting a good lawn seat in the shade.
Get a Rental Car
I speak for the experience at the Cactus League on this one. The Grapefruit League in Florida may be different, but I imagine it is similar. You will need to drive between the different stadiums, and don’t depend on public transportation (mainly because it doesn’t exist). Save yourself the headache and hastle of constantly taking a Lyft or Uber around town, and get a rental car.
Players are Extremely Accessible
If you are a fan, this is your time to get as close as possible to the players. There are two parts of the fan experience at Spring Training: team practice and the actual games.
To get the best up close and personal experience with the players, go to the team practice. I showed up to the Rockies practice as it was ending, and there were a handful of fans waiting for the players. As I walked down to the field, the players started waving and acted up a little for the camera I was carrying. Players signed autographs, said hi to fans, and stopped for selfies, and I wasn’t expecting this at all. Spring Training breaks down that barrier between fans and players.
At the games, some players do come out and sign autographs before the game from the field. It isn’t laid back as practice, but it is still more than you will see during the regular season.
Games are played in stadiums
You may be thinking “well, obviously, and what’s your point?” After heading to the practice facility and casually walking around with no one searching my bag or telling my I can’t bring my tri-pod, this may have slipped my mind (either that or the Arizona sun was starting to fry my brain). Yes, it is definitely more laid back than a regular season game, but that doesn’t mean that anything goes. Before heading into a stadium you should verify its policies to check what is and isn’t allowed. You can save potential headaches and even save money on food and drink.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
I used my CamelBak which was a lifesaver during the weekend. The sun is brutal, and there isn’t a lot of shade in the stadiums I visited (apparently some stadiums are better than others with this). Generally speaking, be prepared to spend some time sitting in the sun. I know, you want to drink beer and margaritas, but don’t forget to have some water in between. I saw three people who needed medical assistance while I was in Arizona – it sneaks up on you and can make the rest of your day miserable. Save yourself the trouble, and keep drinking water!
Sunscreen, and More Sunscreen
Speaking of the Arizona sun, it will burn you to a crisp – even at 10am. If you are like me, your pasty skin hasn’t seen the sun since September. Save yourself a trip to the drugstore to buy aloe vera, and just bring your own sunscreen and keep applying. The Rockies stadium even has its own complimentary sunscreen station. It seems simple, but is easy to forget.
See Who Else Is In Town
Arizona has all major league sports, and if you plan correctly you can catch another game while you are there. Since most of the people at Spring Training are snowbirds like me, it is always a good idea to check out the home teams and their fans as you can get a unique local experience.
I happened to see an Arizona Coyotes game, but they also have an NBA team, the Suns. The Coyotes play in Glendale, and they have a nice entertainment district, Westgate, where their stadium is located. For a night out after a day of spring training, there is plenty of food and bars here.
If you are a fan of baseball or the culture that surrounds it, you will enjoy Spring Training. The atmosphere at games is relaxed and intimate, ticket prices are relatively cheap, and the facilities are clean and modern. The scenery in Arizona is beautiful, and the sun is a nice sight after a cold winter. There is a reason fans from teams all around the league come back year after year, and I recommend you add it to your list for future trips!
What tips and tricks do you have for Spring Training? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!