7 Reasons You Need to See a Spring Training Baseball Game
If you’re lucky enough to be in Florida or Arizona enjoying warm sunshine in late winter, treat yourself to a Grapefruit League (Florida) or Cactus League (Arizona) game.
According to Major League Baseball's calendar, spring starts in late February and ends in late March. If you’re in Central Florida or the Phoenix area at that time, take a relaxing nine-inning spring break and enjoy America's favorite pastime.
1. Not a Bad Seat in the House
The seating capacity at spring training ballparks is a small fraction of the size of major league stadiums (about 5,000 to 10,000 compared to 40,000 to 60,000). So, you’ll get a lot closer to the players and the field, so close in fact, you may be able to call balls and strikes yourself.
Grapefruit Option: To experience a ballpark with a sweet small-town feel, take in a Toronto Blue Jays game in Dunedin, near Clearwater. Built in 1990, the park is considered small with just 5,500 seats, but it still offers plenty of modern amenities. After the game stroll around the cute little town of Dunedin, there are plenty of shops, galleries and eight craft breweries all within a mile of each other. Stay overnight at the historic Fenway Hotel right on St. Joseph’s Bay then head over to Honeymoon Island or Caladesi Island for a day at the beach.
Cactus Option: For the classic ballpark experience in Arizona, take in an Oakland A's game at Hohokam Stadium. The stadium was originally built in 1977, torn down and rebuilt in the late 90s, then refreshed again in 2014. Hohokam is one of the shadiest places to see a ballgame. The huge overhang casts a shadow over most of the 200-level seats keeping daytime games cool and comfortable. If you’d rather lounge in the sun, the outfield berm offers room to stretch out at just $10 per ticket.
2. Ballpark Food is Good Fare
You can get more than the typical hot dog, Crackerjacks and peanuts at a spring training game. You'll find a variety of innovative menu items and adult beverages. Several parks offer delicacies from the area where the team is based. For instances, at Phoenix’s Maryvale Baseball Park where the Brewers play, you can get an authentic Milwaukee bratwurst and wash it down with one of the Brew City’s iconic beers. If you’re seeing a Reds game at Goodyear Stadium in Arizona, treat yourself to a bowl of Cinncinati's Skyline Chili.
Grapefruit Option: Bring your appetite to Fenway South, the Red Sox’s winter home offers up New England favorites like lobster rolls, clam chowder and fried clams. You can also get meatballs in a cone and French fries in a helmet. But if that’s not novel enough for you, there’s a vending machine that dispenses kosher hot dogs, baked ziti, potato skins, mozzarella sticks and mac and cheese. If you're feeling really adventurous, go to Hammond Stadium where the Twins play, there you can get jalapeno popcorn and a Blue Moon creamsicle beer milkshake!
Cactus Option: There are decadent food options at every Cactus League park including hot dogs served up with a myriad of toppings and a wide variety of craft beers. If you’re taking in a Giants game at Scottsdale Stadium try the Giant Burger, it’s a bratwurst served between two hamburger patties. For dessert, have an adult-only, spiked snow cone served in a helmet. At Salt River Fields — home of the Diamondbacks and the Rockies — get a Walkoff Waffle, it’s spicy chicken, coleslaw and bleu cheese stuffed into a waffle cone, convenient and tasty!
3. Relaxing for Adults, Nostalgic for Grandparents and Fun for Kids
Baseball is multi-generational and family friendly. Many of the small spring training ballparks still have that old-timey feel that can be very bucolic and chill. If you don’t think your kids will sit still for a whole nine innings, get tickets in the berm area. Most parks have lawn seating in the outfield so bring a blanket or stadium seats and set up camp. Bonus: Lawn seating starts around $8 per ticket (less than a movie).
Grapefruit Option: Spectrum Field, home of the Phillies has a playground just past left field, close to the Tiki Terrance. The playground at Charlotte County Sports Park – where the Tampa Bay Rays train – has a shaded playground next to the berm area.
Cactus Option: Pack the kids' swimsuits and towels if you're going to see a Mariners or Padres game at Peoria Stadium. There you’ll find a playground, splash-pad water feature plus a kid-sized ball field that hosts whiffle ball games. The berm at this stadium spans the entire outfield, so there’s space for the kids to run. If you don’t get enough to eat at the ballpark, there are plenty of restaurants right across the street. Try Headquarters Grill, Bar and Sushi, there you’ll find something for everyone. Goodyear Stadium where the Reds and Indians train also has a Kids Zone with a mini baseball field and inflatable features.
4. If You’ve Relocated From Up North, You Can Reconnect With Your Hommies
Snowbirds and transplanted northerners enjoy the novelty of watching warm-weather baseball in the winter. If you go to a Mets or Yankees game, you’ll likely hear more New York accents than Southern accents. It’s like you’re instantly transported from Florida to the Greater Metropolitan Area. You’ll hear fans from Lawn Guyland and New Joisey all tawking loudly as they drink cawfee, watta or soder. The same thing happens in Phoenix, if you see da Cubs or da White Sox, you’ll be expected to have haht dhag or a sammich and wash it down with a boddle of pop or beer like if youse were in Chi-kah-go.
5. It’s a Boatload Cheaper Than the Regular Season
A day at a major league ballpark with the fam can take the better part of your paycheck, especially if you want decent seats. Most spring training games start at $15 per ticket and some are as low as $8. But if you want to splurge, top seats will cost around $30 to $40. Like the regular-season parks, many spring training facilities offer family and group packages, all-you-can-eat specials and discounts for seniors, veterans and kids. To really save money, pack a picnic. Many stadiums allow you to bring food in a soft-sided cooler, however, others only allow one bottle of water per person. Check the stadium's bag policy before you go.
Grapefruit Option: The Detroit Tigers’ Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland has a large berm in left field perfect for picnicking, and the cost is $13 per ticket. This is one of the parks that let you bring in snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. If you want to get up and stretch your legs, find a spot on the Runway, it’s a continuous drink rail that runs from right field to center field with direct views of the Tigers and visiting team's bullpens.
Cactus Option: The best value in spring training? A Brewers’ game at the newly renovated American Family Fields of Phoenix (formally known as Maryvale Baseball Park), lawn seating on the berm is just $8 per ticket. And the berm is huge, it extends the entire outfield and then turns the corner down both the left and right field lines. The first baseline is more shaded then the third base side.
6. See Up-and-Coming Stars
You may balk that the lineup is filled with rookies and not the famous heavy hitters. But keep in mind, it is spring “training” and even though you never heard of a lot of these guys, they may become household names tomorrow. If you’re interested in getting autographs or photos, get to the game early for batting practice. Most teams will have a designation time or place – usually about 90 minutes to an hour before the game – when selected players will sign autographs. Sometimes you might get lucky and players will be giving autographs on their way to and from the clubhouse or parking lot. Most teams offer free viewing of their workouts, take a look at this page for each team's schedule.
Grapefruit Option: If you’re after autographs, go see a Pirates game at LECOM Park in Bradenton. It is rated as one of the best parks to get up close to the Pirates as well as the visiting team. Check out the Spring Training Connection for details on exactly where to stand to get up close to the players.
Cactus Option: For autographs seekers, Tempe Diablo Stadium home of the Angels is known as one of the best places to score some signatures because you can catch the players coming in and out of the clubhouse. Remember to be respectful when autograph seeking, the players may be getting their mind in the zone for the upcoming game so they may not want to stop and chitchat.
7. You Can Still Find Ballparks Without Corporate Names
Today most professional and semi-pro sports arenas, stadiums and ballparks have sold their naming rights to a big corporate sponsor. Most of the exceptions are the older venues like Fenway Park, Madison Square Garden or Solider Field. However, there are still many spring training facilities that are named after a person or a location, especially in the Cactus League. Don’t let a corporate name sway whether or not you’re going to the game (just go), but take notice when you’re at one of these non-corporate ballparks and savor the tradition of a park whose name has not been blatantly paid for with millions of dollars.