Is Spring Training In Florida Doomed? (Revised)

TEMPE, AZ – Say you’re a Mets fan.

It’s ok – even in the hypothetical, you only have to remain such through dusk next Monday.

You’ve cobbled together a five-day weekend starting this Thursday and you are determined to spend it with your beloveds in Spring Training. Do you like the way this relaxing trip sounds? A two hour and fifteen minute crack-of-dawn flight to Orlando and then the drive down to St. Lucie (or to Ft. Lauderdale and then the drive up to St. Lucie) in hopes of making first pitch of the home game against the Marlins on Thursday, then to a hotel somewhere, then the 100-mile drive to Lakeland for the Friday matinee against the Tigers, then either a new hotel or another 100 miles back to St. Lucie for the Saturday home game against the Astros, followed by the blink-of-an-eye 40-minute jaunt to Jupiter for the Sunday with the Cardinals, and then another 100 miles to Lakeland to see the Tigers again there, where it starts raining in the 4th, by which time you’d already seen all of the Tigers you wanted to see anyway and the Mets are now off on Tuesday and even if you stayed in Lakeland for a sixth day the nearest game is nearly an hour away in Orlando?

You like this?

Any chance you would prefer the four-hour flight to Phoenix where your hypothetical Mets have joined the 15 other teams in a Cactus League in which the longest ballpark-to-ballpark trip is an 80-minute drive? Where if even if your team was on the road for the entirety of your trip, you could easily find decent enough accommodations in almost guaranteed rain-free environment so that your total time in the car for the five days combined is less than just one of those 200-mile roundtrips to Lakeland? Where if you’d suddenly seen enough of the Mets – or if they simply took a day off – there would still be as many as six other games to choose from, all of them around the metaphorical corner?

These three guys have now each relocated to Arizona for Spring Training. Taken Monday in Mesa: Mgr. Francona of Cleveland; a pasty white guy; President Epstein of Chicago Nat'l.

These three guys have now each relocated to Arizona for Spring Training. Taken Monday in Mesa: Mgr. Francona of Cleveland; a pasty white guy; President Epstein of Chicago Nat’l.

In Arizona, it’s a struggle to remember which highway you’re supposed to take for each of the 28-minute drives to the ten different parks. In Florida, it’s a struggle to drive to almost any of them in time for first pitch.

The other day, Florida Governor Rick Scott reportedly asked for five million dollars to spend on preserving his state’s increasingly fragile Spring Training ecosystem. Unless he finds a way to move his cities closer together (or at least the teams they host), he might as well ask for fifty million – it won’t make much difference. With their new mini-Fenway beginning its second year of use, the Red Sox are seemingly ensconced in Ft. Myers until further notice, but the second newest park in the Grapefruit League is the Phils’ successor to Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater – and it’s now a decade old. The Pirates play in a lovely, historic, old school park in Bradenton – that moves a little in the wind. There’s surely nothing wrong with Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, but compare it to any of Arizona’s new facilities – especially the palace the Dodgers and White Sox share at Glendale – and it looks a little shopworn and inconvenient.

Arizona, for decades the ugly sister in the Spring Training family, married well. When the Cubs jilted HoHoKam Park in Mesa for yet another new facility down the road scheduled to open next year, Oakland jumped at the chance to upgrade from Phoenix Municipal, into which they had slid when the Giants upgraded to Scottsdale. As of today the A’s are happy to be lame ducks for 2014 while HoHoKam is remodeled (with some seats removed) and then commit to at least 20 and as many as 30 years in the place the Cubs no longer want.

Arizona has one notable drawback. Excepting the Arizona Fall League, the Spring Training facilities are of almost no use here after April 1 (unless there are large groups of people you don’t like who you’d like to torture by forcing them to sit outside in three-digit temperatures). There is no equivalent to the Florida State League. There is no particular mandate for this, of course. You certainly could start one. Arizona used to field Phoenix and Tucson teams in the PCL without taking any more dramatic health steps than installing misting devices at the Phoenix games.

It would seem Florida is hanging on mostly by dint of tradition. After a quarter century of meanderings

My favorite Spring Training photo, from Jonathan Yardley's great bio of the legendary writer Ring Lardner, at Cubs' camp, probably in Pasadena or Catalina, CA in the 1917-25 era

My favorite Spring Training photo, from Jonathan Yardley’s great bio of the legendary writer Ring Lardner, at Cubs’ camp, probably in Pasadena or Catalina, CA in the 1917-25 era

through places like New Orleans and Atlanta and resorts in Texas and Hot Springs, Arkansas, most of the major league teams were settling into the Sunshine state just as real estate boomed in the ’20s. But there was always a “western” component, and in fact only nine of the 30 big league clubs have never held camp in Arizona (or at least California in the pre-Dodgers/Giants days).

Not counting World War II, when travel restrictions saw the Dodgers training at Bear Mountain in New York and the Reds in Bloomington, Indiana, the Chicago Cubs haven’t trained east of Mesa since 1916 (for the record, that was in Tampa, and the Cubs spent part of WW2 in pre-Larry Bird French Lick). There are six clubs – most of whom would surprise you – that went back to Florida after the experience. The Cardinals tried California in the ’20s and the Pirates were in San Bernardino, California, as late as 1952. The Astros began life as the Colt .45s in picturesque Apache Junction, AZ, in ’62 and ’63, and the Orioles held four of their first five camps in Arizona. The Red Sox were in Scottsdale from 1959 through 1965 and – as part of a stunt in which they swapped camp sites with the Giants for one season – in 1951, the Yankees trained in Phoenix.

Unless you’re a Northeasterner driving to the Tampa area to see the Yanks, Phils, Sox, or Jays, there is no longer any real advantage to having your team play its exhibitions in Florida rather than Arizona. However, more reasonable and realistic concerns exist for the fans who are left behind. The Reds-Cubs exhibition at HoHoKam on the 26th won’t be on radio in Cincinnati until 10 PM that night. On the other hand, it’s doubtful any young Yankee or Red Sox fans are catching those 1 PM weekday exhibitions from Dunedin. More over, instinct suggests that a kid with a tepid interest in baseball who fights his way home from school on a snowy March afternoon to find himself able to watch an entire exhibition game from the glorious glare of Arizona starting at 4 PM Eastern might become a fan for life, and maybe a future Spring Training voyageur.

Don’t get me wrong. I went to my first Spring Training 41 years ago in Ft. Lauderdale and it still grieves me that the Yankees don’t play there any more. I love McKechnie Field in Bradenton, and I brooded when the Dodgers abandoned Vero Beach for ‘Zona and left the footprints of Campy and Jackie and all the rest to be rediscovered by future baseball archaeologists. But since 2006 I’ve tried to do the day game/night game doubleheader thing at least once each spring in Florida and only about half the time did I make first pitch of the nightcap. Here I’ll have enough time between each game for an actual dinner.

Besides which tradition isn’t always as big a deal as us traditionalists make it out to be. The Texas Spring Training circuit was viable if not vibrant for nearly twenty years ending about 1941, with the Braves, Cardinals, and Tigers all taking turns as the home team in San Antonio. I mean, I don’t see anybody mourning the fact that the Phillies moved out of New Braunfels in April, 1939. They were heading for Florida because it just made more sense there. Just as it makes more sense for them (or more realistically the Pirates, Cardinals, Astros, and Twins) to head out here now.


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  2. Kiko Jones

    Don’t see what the deal is…then again, I don’t see the point in following a team around as if it were The Grateful Dead. (Who I didn’t care to follow around, either.) Oh, well…

  3. Mary Caruso


    Could this finally be the starting argument for building the high-speed rail? If Gov. Scott had more of an imagination, he could probably find some means of procuring the funding instead of finding a way to fill his pockets. I think it is nice to have the leagues identified by Cactus or Grapefruits, but bear in mind, Cacti outlive Grapefruits.
    I’d like to see the day when it would be convenient for all to take a ‘short’ trip to a faraway game and not have to suffer traffic jams and overheated cars. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were solar powered monorails or high powered rails strung across the country and one could just flip a ticket, get on board to wherever the next game they want to see? But yes, I am dreaming. It may not happen in my lifetime due to the current climate in Congress and their lack of vision. Obviously they are not into sports as some are. Oh what a day that would be for the fans everywhere! Knit this country together somehow because it’s already in tatters.
    Love the post LyK…

  4. SamYanksGiantsMets

    I’m a traditionalist– I wish the Dodgers still trained in Florida. Heck, I wish they still played in Brooklyn. But since the Mets’ Triple-A team is now in Las Vegas (51’s– what a stupid name) then they might as well have spring training there. Tough choice– Florida with its lousy governors (Jeb and Scott– Crist wasn’t so bad) or the general craziness of Arizona. Remind me never to go there. I wish Portland had a Triple-A team again to replace the Beavers (I’m not talking about Maine– the state or the pitcher). Portland Mets! (By the way, my college sent an email asking who I would want as a guest speaker and I replied “Keith Olbermann.”)

    • SamYanksGiantsMets

      I mean– the Mets might as well train near their Triple-A team, in case anyone wants to correct me by saying Las Vegas isn’t in Arizona.

  5. ShoeBeDoBeDo

    In addition to Arizona’s spectacular vistas and dry weather (which I would take over Florida’s humidity any day of the week) there is one other bonus to having Spring Training in Arizona: No sinkholes! 🙂

  6. Emerson Burkett

    GO GIANTS!!! Who Spring train in Scottsdale. A really lovely place. Of course, the Politics in Arizona totally SUCK, especially with that Witch Jan Brewer at the helm. But, there are some really nice folks there too. Also as pointed out earlier, Florida has a really Sucky Governor too. Well, leave the Politics at home and enjoy the pure joy of Spring training Baseball. Thanks KO for pointing out the differences between the two venues. GO GIANTS; THREEPEAT, THREEPEAT!!!

    • Emerson Burkett

      Forgot to add; figured i would get a comment in early, before the comments gets taken over by THE BLOG HOGS.

  7. Dave

    In 2000, I did a 6-games-in-4-days jaunt through the Gulf coast of Florida. St. Pete/Lakeland doubleheader on Thursday; Bradenton/Sarasota doubleheader on Friday; Clearwater on Saturday; and 6 innings on Sunday in Dunedin before hustling to Tampa International for my flight home. I haven’t since found a schedule favorable to me doing that again…but it was a blast.

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  9. ShoeBeDoBeDo

    Good to see you having fun with you compadres. You won’t be pasty for long if you stay out in that Arizona sun! Keep pounding the water and stay hydrated. 🙂

  10. RobertaK (@justme2)

    @Emerson — Keith has a good opinion of the Giants (he’s posted some nice things about Bochy, probably because he’s the one man who has a bigger head than Keith himself); it’s some of the Giants “fans” he has trouble with. I still maintain that when you win your first WS in a city’s history (2010), it’s hard to “act like you’ve been there before”, but the actions of many post-2012 Championship disgusted and saddened me. And I’ve been a Giants fan since the late 1970s, after a flirtation with the Oakland A’s during their championship years and my first team being the 1969 “Miracle Mets” thanks to my 5th grade teacher who moved here from NYC and brought in a TV so we could watch the games during class.

    • Emerson Burkett

      Yes, it is unfortunate that every sport and every team has some “fans” that say and do distasteful things; but I do believe that by and large, most fans are good folks who enjoy the game and enjoy their team. Yea, Botch does have the bigger head, maybe that explains his genius for the game. Enjoy the upcoming season.

      • Emerson Burkett

        Ouch! I wrote Botch instead of “Boch”. Have never seen Bruce botch anything; both with the Giants and with the Padres. Great Manager, period.

  11. j l rosner

    You seem to have completely forgotten that the Orioles have moved to Sarasota where they have a newly remodeled field & wonderful training facilities for their minor league teams. So the tour of the Tampa area is quite doable.

  12. Thomas ("Tim") Webster

    Keith, you are correct in your assessment of spring training in Florida. However, things can change. Certainly Arizona’s proximity of ballpark’s is a huge advantage. Florida needs bold leadership at the local and state levels to partner with MLB in solving the dilemma. Thinking outside of the box, how about high-speed trains to connect areas that are now distant, a new ballfield for the Rays located between Tampa and Orlando, and spring training tie-ins to the huge array of other tourist sights (Disney, Orlando, Daytona, etc.). Florida is ripe with potential (excuse the pun).

  13. Geri

    trażnika, jaki codziennie informował o Geri
    postępach w pracy cieśli, szlifujących rusztowanie w dziedzinie.
    – To prawda, iż w tej chwili urywają? – spytał
    spośród rezygnacją rycerz. –
    Prawda – ożywił się Kr.

  14. Pingback: MLB Opening Day and Keith’s predictions | Countdown with Keith Olbermann - Unofficial Fanblog
  15. Isaac

    � skądże w tej momentu potrzebnego drobiazgu, Armata Isaac się owe w przybliżeniu
    porażka na tydzień. Zaprotestował dopiero co uderzenie, jak wiedźmin przytargał całkowitą skrzynkę
    amerykańskich skaczących min przeciwpiechotnych, twierdząc
    z nadzwyczajną miną, że
    owe niebywała gratka i dodatkowo razu jednego bezspornie się przyczynią.

    Wyraz twarzy mu ileś zrzedła, kiedy
    Frodo pokazał małą metalową tabliczkę przybitą w niew.

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