Ahhhh, Spring Training. That time of the year when baseball fans are still hopelessly optimistic about their teams! With an eye on the coronavirus, the MLB has decided that Spring Training will continue as usual. As the weather (sorta) begins to warm up, this week actually features a World Series rematch featuring the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals in West Palm Beach, Florida. (If you’re around, get tickets! We have some starting as low as $14!) So what is MLB Spring Training? And what’s the experience like for fans? Here’s a look at what you can expect at Spring Training games and practices if you choose to get in on baseball action early this year!
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What is MLB Spring Training?
So yeah, it’s not exactly spring yet, but the MLB is already getting into gear for the regular season. Opening Day is on March 26th this year – the earliest it’s ever been – but up until then, MLB teams will be practicing and playing games across warm weather areas like Florida and Arizona. The games don’t count toward their regular-season records, but it’s a good chance for baseball fans to get out and preview their team’s rosters on the cheap (not that MLB games are pricey anyway).
Historically, spring training allowed MLB teams from colder areas to get out and practice outside of gymnasiums to get in shape before the regular season began. Florida and Arizona became the most popular spots, but they actually used to travel to Cuba and California too! Over the years, those teams based in Florida and Arizona during the spring became known as the Grapefruit League and the Cactus League, respectively. Nowadays, Spring Training begin for most teams on February 17th or 18th, with pitchers and catchers reporting five days earlier than everyone else. See the full official schedule by team.
MLB Spring Training features several weeks packed with exhibition games and practices. It provides time for new players to try out for roster spots and different positions. Veteran players use this time as practice, getting into the swing of things before heading into games that actually matter. Because no – the stats, the wins, the scores, the records, nothing counts toward official, regular-season numbers!
What is Spring Training like for Fans? The Stadiums? The Food?
So what can you expect from the Spring Training experience? Well, cheap entry, for one. For two, February and March provide a more intimate experience for fans, a chance to get up close and personal with your favorite teams. The stadiums are small, and it’s relatively easy to get good views and snag autographs from players.
Each team has its own practice stadium, either in Arizona or Florida, although some teams share facilities. You can easily get front-row seats to see your favorite pitcher as they warm up. And according to the MLB, you’ll even experience sounds you wouldn’t normally hear at a big professional stadium, like the noise of the cleats hitting the ground as the players jog in.
But like, are there concessions and, more importantly, beers available? Of course! This is still baseball, after all! And typically, you’ll find the prices down south during Spring Training much more affordable than regular season MLB games. Surprise Stadium, located in the Arizona town of the same name, features two craft breweries and something called the High Heat Dog, a hotdog served with sriracha-ketchup. And at the Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida, home of the Orioles, they sell Maryland-inspired crab cakes and crab soup… just like at home in Baltimore!
The Red Sox play at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, and they’ve made it into a mini-Fenway with a tiny Green Monster. They also serve up lobster rolls, pizza, foot-long hotdogs, and Sam Adams beer. Hammond Stadium, home of the Minnesota Twins, brings you a taste of the Midwest with bratwurst and cheese curds with brown gravy. Obviously, you can grab a cheesesteak at the Phillies’ Spectrum Field. The Tampa Bay Rays’ Charlotte Sports park was voted as the Spring Training stadium with the best food, according to fans, serving things like pineapple fried rice, Oreo churros, Chick-fil-A, and pork nachos.
Check out fan reviews of Spring Training stadiums and food here.
What Should You Expect on the Field at Spring Training?
Okay, so these games do matter for some of the younger players who are trying to grab the final few spots left on official MLB rosters. Pitchers are vying for spots in professional rotations, young guys are trying to stand out in exhibition games, cuts are made, and yes, some players are sent back to Triple A. And even for others who have played in the majors before, Spring Training performance matters – for instance, guys who are trying to transition to a different position this season (like Gleyber Torres of the Yankees).
As for a team’s Spring Training record, nah, it doesn’t really matter. According to the MLB, the correlation between success in the spring and success in the regular season, well, it’s pretty small.
But sometimes, that actually makes Spring Training more fun for fans! Because these games don’t matter in terms of official records, teams have been known to invite celebrities to suit up and take the field. For instance, Will Ferrell, Russell Wilson, and Garth Brooks have all lived out their professional baseball dreams during spring training, taking at-bats or fielding balls for teams like the Yankees and the Padres. Will Ferrell hilariously put on uniforms and played for all ten teams in the Cactus League one year! So definitely expect the unexpected!