If you, like me, think that the last two words of the U.S. National Anthem is “play ball!” then March is an exciting time of the year because it is Spring Training time.
If you are not a baseball fan, let me bring you up to speed. Major League Baseball (MLB) starts in April but in late February pitchers and catchers report to team training facilities followed by the other players a week later. Starting in early March teams start playing in exhibition games. Spring training takes place in two locations: Arizona and Florida. The fifteen teams that meet in Arizona all have training facilities in and around Phoenix Arizona and are known as the Cactus League.
Spring in baseball is a season of hope. Every team is in first place and most fans hold out hope that this is their team’s year (possibly even Chicago Cub fans). Most of the players are healthy. The teams have their regular rosters augmented with fresh-faced minor league players who hope to make an impression and unsigned veterans hoping to squeeze one more year out of aging bodies. Every year there is some surprise player who makes a major league team who no one would expect.
In 2011, the Giant’s Ryan Vogelsong earned a spot on the team because one of their regular pitchers was injured. Vogelsong was a 33 year-old pitcher who had been injured and cut from the major leagues and had played for a few years in Japan. After making the team he pitched well enough to represent the Giants in the All Star Game. This kind of story is the substance of the hope of Spring.
No where else is it as easy to watch games of so many teams as when they all cluster together in Spring. You will spot fans of every major league team in the crowds. Games in Spring Training don’t count so the teasing between fans is fairly good natured. Most fans have flown in to see games so we are talking about some serious and knowledgeable fans. Just sitting in the bleachers and listening is a great way to get a baseball education.
The teams want to see a lot of players play so at the start of Spring Training a starting pitcher might only pitch 2 innings. Some recently traded players are wearing new uniforms and meeting new teammates. Keep your program handy. Behind the scenes a team like the Giants will also have a minor league facility with over 200 players vying for a spot on a roster somewhere in the farm system.
Teams in the Cactus League:
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Chicago Cubs
- Cincinnati Reds
- Colorado Rockies
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Milwaukee Brewers
- San Diego Padres
- San Francisco Giants
- Chicago White Sox
- Cleveland Indians
- Kansas City Royals
- Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim)
- Oakland Athletics
- Seattle Mariners
- Texas Rangers
If you are looking for autographs you will probably not get a better chance than at a Spring training game. Crowds are smaller, players are more relaxed and more likely t make themselves available to fans.
Each of the teams has a small stadium which holds around 10,000 fans. No seat is far from the field (which does mean those foul balls are coming rather quickly as one woman behind me learned rather painfully). Ballparks often have grass lawns outside the outfield and the games have a picnic atmosphere.
We took in 2 games this last weekend. The first game of Spring Training for my San Francisco Giants was Saturday against the rival Arizona Diamondbacks at Scottsdale stadium. On Sunday we drove across town to watch the Mariners play the San Diego Padres at Peoría. Tickets for Scottsdale were more expensive. We paid $12 for grandstand seats in Peoria and $18 for bleacher seats (benches) in Scottsdale. But still both of those tickets are pretty inexpensive for a major sporting event.
My Giants lost by a score of 9-6 and a number of the players looked pretty rusty, but the game didn’t count and I am not worried. I think this just might be their year.