Spring training is when baseball goes back to its roots. Big League teams who normally fill 40,000-seat stadiums head to the warm climes of Florida and Arizona to get ready for their regular seasons. This is the chance for fans to spend the afternoon watching their favorite players take the field in stadiums that hold 5,000 to 10,000. It’s also a time to get autographs and mingle with players.
Baseball is no longer as popular as football in the US, but many people still consider it America’s game. And spring training is the best time to experience all that is classic about baseball. The small stadiums, the relaxed pace of the games, the access to the players: these are things that characterized baseball 74 or 80 years ago, when the first great players took to the diamond. And, of course, March is the perfect time to visit Florida. The heat and storms of the summertime have not yet arrived, but most of the snowbirds are back home, so the tourist crowds are beginning to thin.
Better yet, most of the Florida training camps of major league teams are located near unique attractions. Yes, some stadiums are near the beaches, but you can also enjoy things like horseback riding, sailing, water parks and ecotourism during a spring training vacation. Some teams purposely hold their games at stadiums near one or more of Florida’s famous theme parks so their fans have an extra reason to make the trip down south during March.
The Atlanta Braves have one of the best examples of a spring training vacation destination. One of baseball’s most popular teams, they hold their March games in Lake Buena Vista, which is right next to Disney World. The Central Florida theme park sits on scenic Bay Lake. Fans love the 9,000-seat stadium where the Braves play because it has a classic grandstand and berms beyond the outfield wall where people can actually sit on the grass and have a great view of the games.
The pleasant West Coast, near Sarasota and Fort Myers is ideal for people seeking to avoid the crowds of the Gold Coast. This area is golf heaven, with a number of world class courses, including Whispering Oak at Verandah, which was designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus. The Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox both call Fort Myers home during March, while the Orioles warm up for the season in nearby Sarasota.
One of the most unique opportunities is in the town of Viera. The Washington Nationals play their home spring training games at the aptly named Space Coast Stadium. This name fits because this eastern Florida field is not far from Cape Canaveral, which is home to the famous Kennedy Space Center. The most historic shuttle launches ever took place right here and the area remains a popular spot for tourists.
People seeking a big city experience can spend their March with the New York Yankees in Tampa. Of course, this western Florida metropolis now has its own major league franchise, but the chance to see one of baseball’s most storied franchises (and highest paid players) in a 10,000-seat stadium draws both local fans and New Yorkers.
Accommodations can be a memorable part of your spring training experience. People attending camps in eastern Florida, near Jacksonville and Orlando, can stay at classic villages like Atlantic Beach. The Atlantic Beach Estate, a collection of condos designed by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright, offers sea views and a classic setting that goes perfectly with the timeless tradtion of visiting spring training.
People who visit the Braves training camp or the several others in the Orlando area can take advantage of the awesome natural landscapes to enjoy the outdoors in a season which boasts ideal weather. For example, Ocala is home to the BG Equestrian Resort. After a couple days at the Diamond, you can take to the trails on horseback. One of the best things about places like BG is that the accommodations feature multiple rooms. This can make spring training a group vacation or a memorable family spring break experience. BG’s cottages have three bedrooms and their main house can hold 14 people.
Are you considering taking a spring training vacation this March? Use the comments section to share your plans and insights with us.