Do you want to take yourself out to the ball game? Buy yourself some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and root, root, root, for a bunch of teams by taking a trip to Spring Training. The annual precursor to the baseball season starts in late February and lasts through the month of March. With multiple teams playing exhibition games within a short drive of each other, it’s a fantastic opportunity to soak up as much of America’s favorite pastime as you’d like without having to match the Yankees’ payroll.
The Grapefruit League
Spring Training is divided into two leagues — the Grapefruit League and the Cactus League. The Grapefruit League is the older of the two leagues and is based in Florida. While teams had sporadically trained in Florida previously, the Grapefruit League truly began to take shape in 1913 when the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians held their training camps in Florida. A year later, two other teams joined and the league was off and running. Every town in Florida was rolling out the red carpet, trying to lure Major League teams to spend the spring with them. Currently, 15 teams call Florida their spring home.
When traveling to Florida for Spring Training, you’ll be able to get a close look at the Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburg Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, and Washington Nationals. The largest Spring Training ballpark only holds 10,000 seats, so you can always get close to the action with a great view of your favorite players.
Planning Your Grapefruit League Trip
One of the highlights of Spring Training is the amount of baseball you can watch for your dollar. The training camps are all within an easy drive of one another, so pick a central location and see as many teams as you’d like. Tampa is a good place to begin your search for accommodations. With several larger chain hotels, like Holiday Inn Express, Comfort Suites, and Hilton Garden Inn, you can easily find an affordable place to lay your head between games.
A great thing about traveling to Florida for Spring Training is that baseball doesn’t have to be the only reason for your stay, and you’ll have plenty of time between games to explore all that Florida has to offer. If you have kids with you, the Disney parks are obviously going to be on their to-do list. In fact, the Atlanta Braves have their training facility there. You could also check out Universal Studios, which includes Nickelodeon- and Harry Potter-themed attractions.
Other fun activities for the youngsters away from the diamond include beaches, like Fort Myers, which has a lovely public beach, or Sanibel Island, where you can grab a handful of seashells to take home as souvenirs. Most hotels in the area will also have swimming pools to keep your brood occupied after a day with the big leaguers.
Of course, if you’re looking for something more grown-up to occupy your time, a stunning golf course is merely a chip shot away from wherever you are in Florida. The World Woods Golf Club, located outside of Tampa, offers two championship courses, both ranked in the top 10 in the area. There are also tons of amazing restaurants and shopping throughout Florida in Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Myers. You’ll have plenty to entertain you while you get ready for the next game.
The Cactus League
The Cactus League, based in and around Phoenix, got its start in 1947, when the Cleveland Indians and New York Giants moved their training camps out west. Part of the reason for the move was the integration of African-American players into the Major Leagues. Florida was still very much in the midst of segregation, making it difficult for integrated teams. The Indians and the Giants were among the early leaders to abolish the color barrier, and Arizona offered a more welcoming home. As baseball expanded west in the 1960s, so did the number of teams calling Arizona their spring home. Now, 15 teams train in Arizona every year.
Within an hour of Phoenix, you can catch a glimpse of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers. With so many teams nearby, the Cactus League is truly a baseball oasis.
Planning Your Cactus League Trip
The Cactus League is even easier to navigate than its Florida counterpart. All of the teams are in and around Phoenix, with the longest drive between stadiums less than an￼hour. You could watch one team warm up in the morning, watch another team play a game that afternoon, and for the evening, duck out early and catch the last couple of innings of another. And with the affordability of the tickets, that may just be the plan for each day of your visit. The amount of baseball you see is only limited by your stamina and love for the game.
There are a ton of places for you to stay in the area. If you’re looking to emulate the life of a Major League baller, the Royal Palms Resort and Spa allows you to pamper yourself and unwind from an arduous day of hot dogs, beer, and ball. Those on a minor league budget will enjoy the Hampton Inn or the Homewood Inn & Suites in Happy Valley. Both offer comfortable accommodations with a few amenities at reasonable prices.
You’ll also find a wealth of activities to entertain you and your team between innings. Golf is huge in the Valley of the Sun, with no shortage of world-class courses to challenge you. You can play the world-famous TPC Scottsdale to relive one of the wildest tournaments on the PGA tour. If you’re more of a weekend duffer, you can find great value on pristine courses, like the Desert Canyon Golf Club. And after a long day of baseball and golf, you’ll want to check out some of the best restaurants in the area. No matter what you’re in the mood for, whether it’s local Mexican cuisine, succulent steaks or Japanese sushi, you have a number of options.
No trip to the desert would be complete without a drive north to arguably the most breathtaking destination in the country — the Grand Canyon. Located roughly three hours north of Phoenix, it is a must-see to anyone who has not had the pleasure. Hiking, camping, horseback riding, and simply enjoying the views are all popular activities at this natural wonder. Make sure to make it part of your Spring Training vacation.