week the Locker Room is bringing you our Spring Training Special.
Don't forget to visit the Locker Room next week for the conclusion of
our four-part series on Fantasy Sports.
day games with palm trees, suntan lotion and autograph hounds. Time
for the boys of summer to shake the winter blues and get in shape.
Grab your shades for a peak into Spring Training.
League Baseball's 30 teams spend Spring Training away from home. Ten
teams train in Arizona and play exhibition games in what is known as
the Cactus League. The 20 remaining teams train in Florida and play
exhibition games in the Grapefruit League. Both leagues have an even
mix of American and National League teams so that they are not seeing
too much of the regular season competition. In fact, in the case that
they do see a regular season rival, most teams will purposely bump or
sit some of their "A" players. Don't worry, there are still
plenty of stars playing in the exhibition games.
you build it, they will come . . . "
built their Wide World of Sports Complex to attract the Atlanta
Braves in 1997. The city of Tampa helped build Legends Field for the
Yankees. Both facilities are more like major league stadiums than
minor league parks (along with major league prices!)--but that's a
whole other story. As well, many teams move around to different
facilities. The Indians trained in Tucson's Hi Corbett Field prior to
moving to Florida. The Tribe even moved within Florida, after
Hurricane Andrew nearly wiped Homestead, FL off the map. The Tribe
now trains at Chain of Lakes Stadium in Winter Haven, FL, which was
the Red Sox facility from 1966-92. Reds moved their spring training
and Florida Instructional League operations to Sarasota in 1998 from
Plant City, FL, where the club had trained since 1987. It's also
about money, kids.
know that it may seem silly for hometown teams like Arizona and
Tampa Bay to go somewhere else to train, but they do. And why the
Dodgers travel all the way from California to Vero Beach, Florida
instead of shuffling down to Arizona . . . I dunno. Generally, the
teams train at the best available minor league ballpark facilities,
which for most teams also serve as a home to their instructional and
minor league operations. Additionally, most facilities are part of a
larger training complex complete with a clubhouse, team offices, and
several training fields, practice infields, covered batting tunnels
or cages and extensive workout gyms. In any case, most are minor
league ballparks that tend to be much more intimate settings for the
games. By intimate, I mean smaller and closer to the action. Most
ballparks have more relaxed security than at regular season games.
Fans have many more chances to interact with the players and coaches.
have personally gone to Florida on four Spring Training junkets,
including this year. It is a lot more affordable than you might
think. If money is no object, there are plenty of Spring Training
packages. Contact a travel agent or visit one of the MLB team web
sites. For the rest of us on a budget, all you need is a little planning.
best time seems to be either the first or last week in March.
Generally, the middle of March is not as ideal since it coincides
with college Spring Break, which for obvious reasons, drives up hotel
prices. Yes, you miss out on the carloads of hot Spring Break
girlies, but there is still plenty o' flesh the other weeks. (Don't
worry, the natives are also easy on the eyes.)
the Daytona area. The first week of March is Daytona's infamous
"Bike Week." Bike Week is a 10-day festival throughout
Volusia County, which welcomes hundreds of thousands of motorcycle
enthusiasts from around the country and worldwide. There were only
five fatalities during this year's Bike Week, down from 14 in 2000 (I
wish I were kidding).
to baseball and Spring Training junkets. From a calendar
perspective, it's a perfect time to go to Florida. It is before
college Spring Break, the little kids are still in school (less
Disney traffic), Easter is not for a few more weeks and the snowbirds
are still down there until after Easter so the prices are really
cheap. So most hotels are hurting at this time of year. For example,
I haven't paid more that $35 per night for good basic hotel rooms
(i.e., Days Inn, Ramada). Check several travel web sites. I suggest
staying closer to Tampa or Orlando. Flying in is obviously easier but
so is the nightlife. Both areas have a great deal of action in their
metro areas. For example, outlying areas like Clearwater (metro
Tampa) and Kissimmee (metro Orlando) offer much cheaper options for
hotels as well as attractions like Busch Gardens, Universal and
Disney, and plenty of restaurants, pubs, etc.
on where you are coming from, travel should be equally as cheap
since it is not a particularly busy season. Additionally, it is not a
traditional "blackout" travel period for promotional fares
and specials. Unfortunately this year, airline tickets were
considerably more than in past years mostly due to higher oil prices.
I redeemed airline miles to get a $99 fare. I have also driven from
Ohio twice. As they say, getting there is half the fun. Be creative.
ticket prices are dirt-cheap (except at the Braves and Yankee
games), most having a plethora of available $5-$8 seats. As far as
purchasing tickets, I suggest getting to the game early and heading
to the box office. Skip TicketMaster--it's a scam. They poke you for
a $3 PER TICKET handling fee and a $3 PER ORDER fee. These games
rarely get sold out. You can also get scalped tickets easily,
generally for face value. You may also have to ante up a few dollars
I mentioned earlier, fans have many more chances to interact with
the players and coaches. You can easily get a dozen or more
autographs in a day. More if you get to the park early and if you
stay after the game. Prior to the exhibition games, both teams hold
fielding and batting practice. Most home teams also hold additional
batting practice immediately after the game is finished. Some teams
will also hold fielding or conditioning drills. Batting practices are
a great time to grab a souvenir baseball or two. Teams are quite
liberal with the batting practice balls. Many players will even toss
balls into the stands, if you ask politely (see below).
regular season games, players will sign DURING games--if they are
finished or are not playing. Additionally, many fans get pictures
with players or coaches. The secret is to ask politely. They are
egomaniacs and they need their egos stroked. Addressing them as
"Mr. Alomar," for example, goes a long way. As well, ALWAYS
say thank you. Generally, several players will be signing in the same
area. If they hear you address another player as "Mr." and
say thank you, inevitably they will make their way over to you. Plus,
it's just good manners. Sure it's kissing their ass, but it's what
gets you what you want.
pack a Sharpie marker for autographs, which is the preferred writing
utensil for ballplayers. They are $0.50-$1 at any discount or office
supply store. Don't wait to get them at the ballpark--they are $2.
Some players won't sign your item if you don't have a Sharpie. Again,
they are egomaniacs. As far as what to sign, it is entirely up to
you. I prefer getting a game program and having them sign the cover.
Some folks bring particular baseball cards, pictures, hats, balls,
bats, team helmets or even posters of their favorite players.
However, some players do not sign individual pictures because of the
whole memorabilia market. Folks go to Spring Training for the sole
purpose of stocking their memorabilia store inventories or selling to
vendors. It is a big business and the players are fully aware that
the practice of selling their autographs cuts into their off-field
income. Many players get paid to attend sports memorabilia or signing
games usually run pretty fast since the managers are not employing
any strategy to try to win the game. The primary purpose is to get
the players ready and to evaluate the new or young players.
Traditionally, the young kids get most of the playing time since
management doesn't get to see them first-hand for the rest of the
season. For fans, it's a great chance to see the up-and-coming
players of the organization.
the game, there are usually a few local hangouts where the players
can be seen. Most teams have several pubs or restaurants that sponsor
the team that will host post-game parties or other gatherings. Ask
around to the natives for the best spots. Again, most players are
approachable if they are at one of these places but don't ruin their
dinner asking for autographs while they are eating. Again, staying
closer to Tampa or Orlando will increase your nightlife ratio.
result is a great time had by all.
Bay Devil Rays
of Palms Park
of Lakes Stadium
J. White Stadium
Room is written by Michael Skordeles