Baseball’s regular season begins this week, so that means the abbreviated spring training session for teams, which started late due to the offseason lockout, is over.
However, since it’s never too early to plan -- and next year should be a return to a full-length spring training, here are five reasons why attending spring training games and practices in Florida and Arizona is an experience like no other.
1. The ability to watch players up close and personal.
With spring training, it’s not just going to games in a stadium. Teams have complexes with practice diamonds surrounding the stadiums where they train before exhibition games start, or even in the case of minor league prospects, practice while the big leaguers are playing at the stadium in an exhibition game.
Given that, it’s a glorious chance to watch the players go through drills at one of the practice diamonds from a close distance.
Of course, you can’t be unruly and go anywhere you want, considering the safety measures in place, and security personnel is all around, to point you in the right direction and make sure there’s no mischief going on.
But as long as you go to the right spots and follow the rules, it’s a unique experience to watch players more up close and personal than usual, and possibly get autographs.
2. Tickets are cheaper than at the real games.
Similar to minor league baseball games, going to spring training games can offer the best of both worlds in that you can enjoy a ballgame, but you can do so at a fraction of the cost of a regular-season game in that team’s main city.
3. You can rub it in to family and friends, about the weather.
Going to a regular-season game in the summer can be fun, but there’s no element indicating you’ve escaped to a special paradise, because the weather is typically good that time of year in most cities with an MLB franchise.
However, it can be a different feel for spring training, depending on where you live.
If you are from the north, going to a spring training game or practice in February and March can give you reason to rub it in to family and friends that are still freezing back home.
For years at Detroit Tigers spring training games, the PA announcer comes on and announces the temperature in the main cities of their respective franchises, then announces the temperature at the spring training site to a big round of applause.
At one game in March between the Tigers and New York Yankees, the announcers said how it was about 30 degrees in both New York and Detroit that day, while it was near 80 in Lakeland, Florida.
4. You can get a glimpse of the team’s future.
Spring training games and practices serve as a way for the Major Leaguers to get in shape for the season, but it also affords top minor league prospects the chance to audition their skills and see how close they are to making it to the big leagues.
During the regular season, such minor league prospects can be split up into different levels and cities, so spring training offers one spot for many of them to be together and allow fans to watch them.
5. Being able to travel around to different sites.
Are you a Yankees fan in town but there’s no game in Tampa where the team trains? Drive just about 30 minutes to see them at the Philadelphia Phillies complex in Clearwater.
Are a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates who wants to see them play somewhere else besides their home in Bradenton?
Go down I-75 about 20 minutes and check them out when they play the Baltimore Orioles at their facility in Sarasota.
Even if you are a fan of one team and simply want to compare what it’s like to go to another team’s facility, the short drives in both Florida and Arizona between complexes allow you the chance to do just that.
It’s almost like you can be a spring training nomad!