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This 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.

Spring Training Special

Laid-back 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.

Major 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.


"If you build it, they will come . . . "

Disney 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.

I 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. 

I 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. 

The 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.)

Avoid 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).

Back 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. 

Depending 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. 

Game 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 for parking. 

As 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).

Unlike 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.

Also, 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 sessions.

The 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.

After 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.

The result is a great time had by all.  

Grapefruit League (Florida)




Atlanta Braves 

Baltimore Orioles

Boston Red Sox

Cincinnati Reds

Cleveland Indians

Detroit Tigers

Florida Marlins

Houston Astros

Kansas City Royals

Los Angeles Dodgers

Minnesota Twins

Montreal Expos

New York Mets

New York Yankees

Philadelphia Phillies

Pittsburgh Pirates

St. Louis Cardinals

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Texas Rangers

Toronto Blue Jays


Fort Lauderdale

Fort Myers


Winter Haven




Haines City

Vero Beach

Fort Myers


Port St. Lucie





St. Petersburg

Port Charlotte


Disney Park 

Fort Lauderdale Stadium

City of Palms Park

Ed Smith Stadium

Chain of Lakes Stadium

Joker Marchant Stadium

Space Coast Stadium

Osceola County Stadium

Baseball City Stadium

Holman Stadium

Hammond Stadium

Roger Dean Stadium

Thomas J. White Stadium

Legends Field

Jack Russell Stadium

McKechnie Field

Roger Dean Stadium

Florida Power Park

Charlotte County Stadium

Dunedin Stadium

Cactus League (Arizona)




Anaheim Angels 

Arizona Diamondbacks

Chicago Cubs

Chicago White Sox

Colorado Rockies

Milwaukee Brewers

Oakland Athletics

San Diego Padres

San Francisco Giants

Seattle Mariners











Tempe Diablo Stadium

Tucson Electric Park

HoHoKam Park 

Tucson Electric Park

Hi Corbett Field 

Maryvale Park 

Phoenix Municipal Stadium

Peoria Stadium

Scottsdale Stadium

Peoria Stadium

Locker Room is written by Michael Skordeles

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