January 23, 2003
TOP 10 MYTHS OF SPRING TRAINING
by Joe Connor
Believe it or not, in only just a few short weeks, Major League Baseballs boys of summer will be back on the field as pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training in Arizona and Florida. And this year they wont be answering any questions about contraction or the possibility of a strike thank goodness. Instead, the focus should really be on the play between the lines.
Yet it still amazes me more baseball fans dont attend Spring Training. Ive been going to Spring Training for more than a decade, and while attendance numbers have increased steadily, too many fans are missing out, mainly because I believe theyre simply misinformed. So, its high time to dispel the top 10 myths about Spring Training, which in my view is the ultimate fan-friendly adventure that delivers incredible intimacy and affordability.
Myth No. 1: Spring Training is poorly attended.
Fact: Despite an economic and travel slump, and an off-season of bad PR (remember all the contraction talk thanks to our pal, Bud?), 2002 Spring Training attendance actually climbed 12 percent in Arizona and 5 percent in Florida from 2001. A record 2.7 million people attended games in 2002.
Myth No. 2: Spring Training is mostly attended by rich, retired people.
Fact: Attend a Spring Training game and youll see just how big a myth this is. At many Spring Training ballparks especially in Arizona there are more single, 20-and-30 somethings wearing next to nothing than there are retirees! Not only that, there is a reat mix of baseball fans from a young child holding his Dads arms, to independent travelers to couples and international visitors and more.
Myth No. 3: Spring Training has no fan atmosphere; its just boring.
Fact: The great fan atmosphere from the February workouts to the games themselves is why fans attend. In fact, you really cant get more intimate than Spring Training. Where else besides maybe golf can you hear what coaches are relaying to their players, or players relaying to each other during workouts? Sure, the games dont connote Game 7 of the World Series, but where else can you see superstars one inning and future stars a few innings later all in one afternoon ballgame?
Myth No. 4: Spring Training doesnt really feature the superstars; it only features minor league or "B level" players that never make it to the big leagues.
Fact: Spring Trainings big draw is the superstars and the fact you can get to see them so up close and personal. Consider Arizona Spring Training alone: A-Rod, Bonds, The Big Unit, Sosa, Trevor Hoffman the state is practically a walking Hall-of-Fame museum for six weeks. Yes, you also see the top minor leaguers. The fact of the matter is you see everybody superstars, rookies, cagey veterans, guys barely 19 years old, comeback kids. Thats what makes it so special, too.
Myth No. 5: Spring Training is too expensive.
Fact: Flying to Arizona or Florida, and renting a car or hotel, is much cheaper than in the past because of more airline competition in Spring Training cities like Phoenix, Orlando and Tampa. Spring Training ticket prices at most ballparks are half of what you would pay for a similar seat at a regular season game, and parking is around $3 or nothing at a lot of ballparks.
Myth No. 6: Spring Training ballpark seating options are lousy.
Fact: Spring Training actually offers some of the best sight lines youll find anywhere. The majority of Spring Training facilities have either opened or undergone major renovations in the last decade to keep up with demand, ensuring fans have a rewarding, comfortable experience at the ballpark. There are plenty of seating options to choose from at most sites from grandstand seating under a roof that provides shade to $5 general admission tickets.
Myth No. 7: Most players at Spring Training are loafing it, and dont care.
Fact: Most players arent loafing it one bit. With the exception of the major stars, most players are either trying to make a major league roster and win a starting job. The players working especially hard are those "on the bubble" between making good major league money or lousy minor league money in Triple-A. For them, this is like baseballs version of the SAT.
New free agents and the stars themselves also take Spring Training just as seriously to make sure theyre ready for Opening Day given the intense media scrutiny many are under, making all those big bucks with expectations. And that cant be overemphasized this year either when it comes to the skippers. There are 10 teams with new managers in 2003 and dont believe for a second these guys arent trying to maximize every day of Spring Training to evaluate all the personnel on their club.
Myth No. 8: Spring Training cities offer no entertainment besides baseball.
Fact: The days when teams trained in remote small towns, like Apache Junction, Arizona and Port Charlotte, Florida, are over. In Arizona, Spring Training is located in two major metropolitan cities (Phoenix and Tucson) with an abundance of non-baseball entertainment, from a wealth of golf courses, spectator sports, hiking and other attractions to a variety of nightlife. In Florida, only a few teams actually play in small towns, and those that do offer plenty of daytime entertainment while nightlife is available in nearby larger cities like Orlando, Tampa, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.
Even better, if you love college baseball, there is plenty of it to be had nearby, including the Division I variety at Arizona State, Arizona, Miami and the University of South Florida, among many others.
Myth No. 9: Going to a Spring Training game requires no pre-planning.
Fact: Spring Training ballparks were built for the Arizona Fall League and Florida State League, both of which draw miniscule crowds compared to when the games best are on display. What this means is that the process of "getting to" the ballpark is anything but easy at most facilities since there parking and ticket booths are designed for small crowds, not large ones. You must plan and you should plan to arrive at the ballpark at least 30 minutes before first pitch to avoid a potential headache.
Myth No. 10: A small segment will always believe these myths are facts.
Fact: This one might actually be true! But their ignorance only means they likely wont be attending Spring Training, which means more room for you to secure that better seat behind the dugout and to help dispel these myths!
Joe Connor is a freelance writer who's been lucky enough to visit every Spring Training facility. For more information on Joe, visit his Web site at www.modernerabaseball.com