SURPRISE, Ariz. – Spring is a time known for rebirth and renewal. Nowhere can this be seen more prominently than in Major League Baseball’s many Spring Training camps. This year for spring break, my parents surprised me with a trip to Surprise, Arizona.
Major League teams report to camp in mid-February, and the first preseason games start in March. This gives the players about a month’s worth of games to prepare for the season. Half of the teams work out in Arizona in the suburbs of Phoenix, while the other half head down to Florida. One unique aspect of Spring Training is that teams forget their American and National League designations for a short time as they realign into the Cactus (Arizona) and Grapefruit (Florida) Leagues. This gives fans of American League teams the chance to see teams they typically wouldn’t from the National League and vice versa.
While fans get the chance to see teams they usually wouldn’t, they also get the chance to see their teams in a new light. Players walk freely between practice fields and stop often to sign autographs. Select fans get the opportunity to chase balls in the outfield during batting practice and can watch pitchers throwing bullpens from only 20 feet away. Spring Training is reminiscent of high school practices, but with a dozen fields in use instead of one or two.
Spring games are special in their own way. The only other time you would see as many players in a game would be the All-Star Game. Typically all the starters are subbed out sometime between the fifth and seventh innings. Instead of seeing nine position players with possibly one or two substitutes in a regular season game, fans will see upwards of 18 position players step on the field every day.
For our trip, my family went to the Rangers’ morning practice each day. The gates opened around 10:00 am while the players were still warming up and stretching. We would wander throughout the fields following our favorite players and watching them go through different drills. When players stopped to sign autographs between drills, my family would rush to join the rapidly forming mass of hopeful fans.
We would head into the actual stadium when those gates opened 90 minutes before the game so that we could get a prime spot along the railing by the dugout, hoping for more signatures. As the game started, we would settle into our seats and hope that we were in the shade. Nearly all spring games are day games, and the Arizona sun can be brutal.
With games ending around 3:30, we found plenty of time to enjoy ourselves in the afternoon by hiking the mountains or simply going back to the hotel for a nap. Even those not fond of baseball could enjoy Spring Training. The Phoenix area is beautiful and the people there are extremely nice and hospitable, but by far the best part of Spring Training is the baseball and how available the players are to fans. After three days in the greater Phoenix area, I brought home 12 autographs. It seems the desert produced quite a bountiful harvest after all.
To see this article as it originally appeared in the Grapevine Faith RAWR, click here.