Have a Major League Vacation
Headed for spring training? Baseball expert Chris Epting fields questions on how to get the most out of your trip.
Chris Epting has written nine books, including Roadside Baseball, and has brought his family to watch spring-training games for the last eight years. He recently chatted with BudgetTravelOnline about spring-training trips, including the best way to buy tickets, the best time to visit, the best places to find players signing autographs, and the best baseball-themed attractions near the training camps.
Q: What makes baseball's spring-training magical?
A: Let's start with the obvious appeal. The stadiums are compact. You can be inches away from players standing on deck, which would never happen at a regular season game. So you'll more likely experience a moment when a player will say hello to your kids, or say, "Kid, I cracked this bat, would you like to have it?" The training sessions that happen outside of the games can be even more magical. For example, when I take my 13-year-old son Charlie to spring-training camps in Arizona, he will collect 10 to 15 balls. He'll run around on the lawn out beyond the diamond. For a kid, that's heaven. That's better than watching any game. Charlie loves to learn where the balls came from. Many of the balls have been recycled from all-star games, or other major-league games, and are marked as such. For the grown-ups, of course, the games themselves are exciting. You're so up close that you can hear the chatter and how the coaches push these guys. The trip doesn't require a long commitment, either. Two days can offer a full experience.
Q: Is the trip affordable?
A: Yes, it's a bargain. Hotels are inexpensive in the parts of Arizona and Florida where the games are held. The average room rate for a low-cost, modern hotel room for a family of two adults and two kids can be as low as $75 a night. The game tickets are super cheap, from $5 to $22 a game generally.
Q: How do you buy tickets?
A: Buy them from your team's box office or from the stadium itself on game night. [You'll find all the teams' spring-training advice listed at this Major League Baseball site (click here).] If you'd like to sit behind home plate, you may need to buy tickets from a ticket reseller, especially if your team is very popular. One large ticket reseller is Ticko. You'll also find tickets included in packages offered by hotels. If you don't want to buy a ticket to a game, you can often still gain access to the facilities to watch the practices for free. [For Arizona game schedules, click here. For games in Florida, click here.]
Q: What's the difference between the spring-training leagues in Arizona and Florida?
A: Arizona has the Cactus League. Florida has the Grapefruit League. These leagues don't correspond to Major League Baseball's American League and National League. So teams play against teams they wouldn't ordinarily see during regular season. (The New York Yankees versus the Cincinnati Reds or Philadelphia Phillies, for instance.) This is good news for fans who would like to see teams they wouldn't ordinarily get to see in their hometown stadium. For example, my wife, son, and daughter are Los Angeles Angels fans. We see the Angels all year, so when we visit spring training each year, we'll wander off to see other teams that aren't in the American League because we probably won't get an opportunity to see those teams during the season. My advice: Go as a baseball fan instead of as a fan of one team.
Q: Which state offers a better experience, Florida or Arizona?
A: Both do a good job. Arizona's Cactus League is more convenient in the sense that nearly all its stadiums are located within a 40-minute drive of each other. You can base yourself in a hotel either in, or near, Phoenix, and you'll be pretty much set. The exception is that two teams in Tempe are a bit farther away. By contrast, in Florida, stadiums are located on the east and west coasts of the state, with the exception of one stadium in the middle of the state. Given the long distances, you would be wise to commit yourself to seeing only one of those areas. One warning, though: Whether you go to Arizona or Florida, note that your favorite team may have to travel to play other exhibition games. So check the game schedules before you leave to make sure your team will be at its home stadium when you visit.