Last Updated on December 12, 2022
On most normal years for baseball fans, spring training in Florida and Arizona are very special times. It’s then that you can be up close to the players and be able to relax during a good game without spending a fortune on hot dogs and beer…enjoying the game the way it was meant to be…
By Jim Ferri
I did something really interesting this past Saturday. I went to a baseball game to watch spring training in Florida.
I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by going to a New York Mets spring-training game in Port St. Lucie, Florida with my friend Jeff. And if I can borrow a phrase from another sport, we were both bowled over by the experience.
What sets these “grapefruit-” (if you’re in Florida) or “cactus-” (for the teams playing in Arizona) league games apart from the regular season ones is the intimacy of the ballpark. At spring training everything about it is up close and more personal, pretty much how one would think baseball was meant to be played, and how fans were meant to view the game. Step inside and it’s almost like stepping back in time.
First of all was the size of Digital Domain Park, the Mets spring-training stadium, which has 7,000 seats and was only three-quarters filled. Compare that to Citi Field, its stadium in New York City, which seats more than 40,000 fans, which is approximately half the population of Santa Fe, NM.
During our spring-training foray we found everything to be about one-third the cost of what you’d pay in the regular-season, even less if you include the free second beer the lady at the concession stand offered to give us. Parking was $6 on a big grass field right in front of the stadium, just a 3-4 minute walk to the main gate over the pinecone-strewned grass. Tickets for spring training were only $20 for seats within touching-distance of the players. For eight dollars you could set up your lawn chair on the high berm behind right field.
The whole thing had an atmosphere reminiscent of an old-time country fair. Outside the front entrance a car dealership had a few cars on display. Further on local Boy Scouts were selling something or other to raise funds. And right inside the gate was a big blow-up batting cage where you could try hitting the mitt of the catcher painted on the back wall.
Inside we also found plenty of concessions – – beer and Nathan’s hotdogs, sandwiches from bagel Brothers of New York, ice cream from New York’s popular Carvel ice cream stores, the whole works – – without any of the big lines you find in the big parks. Bring it all back to your seat or launch your baseball bacchanal at one of the picnic tables only four rows up from the field. It’s obvious the place was built with fan-comfort in mind.
The best thing about the spring training ball park, however, was its intimacy since you were so close to the players. Seated in the second row in left field – – there were only five rows of seats in our section – – we watched all the Mets pitchers warming up throughout the entire game. The kids, of course, made the most of spring traaining, hanging onto the railing, trying to snatch an autograph or two. Every once in a while the pitching coach would hand one of them a ball.
The whole spring-training stadium resonated with small-town America. It was wonderful. Even the billboards on the outfield walls, plastered with ads for MasterCard, American Airlines, AT&T and their ilk in the regular season, here touted a local car dealer and chiropractor. And to celebrate the day the Mets wore green shirts and hats and the bases were painted green.
While a few of those working at the stadium appeared to be in their 20s, most seemed to be of retirement age. Jeff and I thought working at spring training would be a great job for a retiree down here, being able to work for a month in spring, while enjoying a game and getting a paycheck. We soon found that not everyone shared that sentiment.
After the game ended (the Mets lost to the Atlanta braves 3-2, by the way) we lingered awhile and sat in the stands behind home plate just to take in the view of the entire stadium. The place had totally cleared out by this time and we were soon told that we had to leave also.
As an usher, a retiree from Baltimore, shooed us along I shared our sentiments about the job with him. “Are you kidding?” he said, “I can’t wait until the month is over, it’s so hot — and they won’t even let us wear shorts!” Obviously, the grass isn’t always greener…
A few minutes later, when I mentioned to Jeff how great it would be to bring a kid to spring training, he put it all in a different perspective.
“It’s spring training that brings out the kid in you,” he told me.
Now there’s an insight.
If you go to spring training:
You’ll find spring-training camps scattered about Florida and Arizona, with 15 teams in each state. Training begins in early March and continues to early April.
A good resource for spring training schedules and other information is http://springtrainingonline.com/