|Baseball spring training at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Florida, offers sun, the chance to see players in a more relaxed atmosphere and close reach to nearby vacation spots.|
Few sentences raise the spirits of baseball fans locked in the depths of winter more than "Pitchers and catchers report." For dedicated and casual fans alike, spring training offers a splash of sun, the chance to see your favorite players up close and the relaxing rhythms of the pre-season. This year, pitchers and catchers report no later than Feb. 15, with full-squad workouts the following week. Games in Arizona's Cactus League and Florida's Grapefruit League start Feb. 25. One point to keep in mind: Many of the game's biggest stars will miss much of spring training this year due to the World Baseball Classic, a 16-team tournament from March 5 to 23, with games in San Diego, Miami, Los Angeles, Toronto, Mexico City, Tokyo and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Visit WorldBaseballClassic for information and tickets.
Here are the five best spring-training locations, from near the beach in Florida to a field side berm in Arizona. Plus, we've included details on how to see your favorite team, wherever it may be playing. Orlando: Cracker Jack Stadium (Atlanta Braves) sits in the middle of Disney's ( DIS) Wide World of Sports Complex, a short drive to Walt Disney World, Sea World and dozens of theme parks and resorts in central Florida. Phoenix: The sprawling metro area of Phoenix -- including Glendale, Goodyear, Mesa, Peoria, Scottsdale, Surprise and Tempe -- is Spring Training Central. Nine fields, from Surprise (Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers) to Mesa (Chicago Cubs), are separated by no more than 54 miles. This year, the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers move to Glendale's Camelback Ranch, and the Cleveland Indians christen Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear. For the best vantage points, stake out spots on the outfield berms in Maryvale (Milwaukee Brewers), Peoria (San Diego Padres) and Scottsdale (San Francisco Giants).
Tucson: Just 115 miles south of Phoenix, Tucson hosts the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies' Hi Corbett Field is a gem with an old-fashioned spring-training feel, while the Diamondbacks' Tucson Electric Field offers mountain vistas. Lakeland, Florida: With the Dodgers heading west and abandoning Vero Beach's historic Dodgertown, Tigertown in Lakeland, situated between Orlando and Tampa, might be the best bet for the old-time charm of spring training from decades past. The Detroit Tigers have spent springs in Lakeland's Joker Marchant stadium since 1934. Fort Myers: No spring training game feels as vitally important -- or costs more, through the ubiquitous scalper scene -- as when the New York Yankees visit the Boston Red Sox at City of Palms Park. Stubhub.com has ducats for as much as $299 for the teams' March 13 matchup. Sound steep? The gulf-coast beach is just a few miles away, and it's free. Package deals: The Red Sox have sold out every spring training game since 2003, and originated a now league-wide practice of offering all-inclusive packages for spring training trips. These packages include game tickets, hotel, Hertz ( HTZ) car rental and an "exclusive reception and post-game BBQ featuring a Season Preview with Red Sox field personnel and select Red Sox players," according to the Red Sox's Web site. Standard packages run from $678 to $1,965 per person. All 30 Major League teams now offer similar packages. You can find 17 teams linked from Major League Baseball's Web site. Other teams offer packages on their own Web sites.
When planning your trip, check out Spring Training Yearbook Online, which posts schedules, ticket prices and links, suggested restaurants and accommodations, and maps to ballparks for the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues. The two leagues also maintain their own informative Web sites. The Cactus League offers a trip planner, where you can enter the dates of your trip and the teams you'd like to see, and review a list of games with links to stadium maps and tickets. Florida's Grapefruit League offers a printable PDF guide with stadium and ticket info, schedules, contact numbers and links.