February 11th, 2015
I know there are lots of forms of entertainment. To be truthful, there are movies I’ve seen that I didn’t like. Same goes for television shows, concerts and stage plays. But believe me, I have never seen a Spring Training game I didn’t like.
There is something very, very special about Spring Training. First and foremost, you’re there. Your friends probably aren’t. They may be back home shivering and shoveling if you live in a frigid winter state. Or, they may be at….work. Yikes!
Spring Training is renewal. Renaissance. It’s a time when even a 100 loss team has a chance. Hope. Vigor. Vitality. Players have that certain “skip” in their step, if you will. Everyone says they’re healthy. Everyone says “it’s the best offseason I’ve ever had. Got all my work done. Spent time with my family. Went hunting. Went fishing. Just chilled.” Renewal. Fresh. A new start. Everyone’s chipper. And when he played, Chipper was even more chipper.
In some parts of Arizona and Florida the scent of orange blossoms can still be discovered. You may have to drive a bit, but they can be found. Not as prolific as the past, but orange blossoms nonetheless. In both states it smells like spring. And spring smells good.
But man, these two Spring Training experiences are way different. I love pizza and I love pasta. Don’t ask me to choose. I love Arizona and I love Florida for Spring Training. Don’t ask me to choose. They are unique and special. Different in many ways and the same in some. It’s baseball.
There is a charm about Florida camps that one does not find any longer in Arizona. Parks that are the homes to clubs like Detroit and Baltimore, Houston and Pittsburgh. Toronto and the New York Mets. And more. They have character. Some are in residential neighborhoods. Some are so quaint it seems like the fan is returning to 1950 and 1960. Updated, yes. But only the paint and some of the important amenities have been refurbished. The memories, the charm and the nostalgia can’t be painted over. I hope Florida doesn’t lose that. But some clubs will be moving to newer, more updated parks in the future. Some of the older and more nostalgic parks will remain.
The drive from one park to another goes on forever in Florida. Lots of traffic. Lots of cops out giving tickets. Some toll roads. Road construction. Everything we hate about driving with little of the good stuff. But at the end of the road…bliss. The ballpark. Get off the freeway to catch a Marlins or Cardinals game and you’re greeted with a small sign on a pole that says something like…”Ball Game Today.”
You bet. A game every day in March. Love it.
And Florida has Steak N Shake. Love me some Steak N Shake.
The humidity is greater than Arizona and the pitchers like that. The ball gets more movement.
Bus rides for players are longer and it isn’t unusual for major core components of a club to skip long road trips. But that happens in Arizona to some extent as well. Just don’t be upset if your favorite player isn’t at the park that day. It happens. But overall, it isn’t worth being upset. Nothing should upset you.
Facilities in Arizona are all on the new side. Very modern. Very “state of the art.” But beautiful. Not as intimate as Florida. A different type of charm. A different experience totally. Many are upscale and really big.
Players seem more distant from the fans. I know that I’ve been told that fans have to work much harder to get autographs in Arizona. But it can be done. Some parks are easier than others.
But what an experience. Everything works. Hot water in the faucet at most parks. Not a given in Florida. Great, great food at the concession stands, similar to Florida.
The air is drier in Arizona and the breaking balls don’t break as much. Players really have to work to break a sweat.
Arizona has Portillo’s for hot dogs, beef sandwiches and milk shakes. I love me some Portillo’s.
Parks are close enough to see a day game and a night game on the same day without driving more than 30 miles. I do it with regularity.
Rental cars are very expensive in Arizona.
I want you to do me a favor. At some point in your life, make it a priority to visit a Spring Training site. Catch a few games. Buy the T shirts and the hats. Wear them proudly back home. Show off a little. Don’t boast. Just wear the goods. Breathe in the Spring Training scent of Karen’s ice cream truck. Or the kettle corn at Maryvale, home of the Brewers. Get some noodles at Peoria, home of the Padres and Mariners. You’ll be hooked.
Pizza or pasta? Florida or Arizona? Both great. Both have something for each of us. There is no such thing as a bad Spring Training game. Time stops. For those three hours we are in paradise. Lost with the crack of the bat and the smell of the mustard. Brown mustard at Goodyear, home of the Indians and Reds.
We might buy a baseball from a Phillies fan in Clearwater. One he says he caught at the game and is now selling for a buck or two. We might stroll through the new and renovated boardwalk at the Pirates camp in Bradenton. It’s fantastic. Or, we may pick up the free Lakeland newspaper they give us at Tigertown. What a place.
As the spring progresses, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the nuances and atmosphere of each place I visit in both Florida and Arizona. I’ll be your eyes and ears until you can get there yourself. But promise me you’ll set a goal of attending at least one Spring Training game in the future. You’ll be convinced you are very much alive.
My “On The Cusp” series continues on MLBPipeline.com. Look for your favorite team on the site or in my archives. And thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. Much appreciated.
That’s it. I’m done.