Everybody knows that spring training stats don’t matter- unless your team is winning. By the beginning of April, the records, ERA’s and batting averages are all virtually insignificant. Last week I spent my Spring Break on the west coast of Florida, going to those meaningless spring training games at various ballparks. This was my first time at spring training, and I have a few takeaways.
Before this trip I had visited Florida twice in my life. The first time I went to Tampa to visit a friend who have moved there, the second was a family vacation to Clearwater. Both were good trips, but both times I left with the same thought, “I could never live in Florida.” Humidity, flat land, old people and not enough Dunkins. Last week, I almost convinced myself to skip my flight back to Boston.
In just two months, MLB teams play around 38 spring training games. That means that on any given day from mid-February to the end of March, there’s a guaranteed baseball game to watch. When I landed in Fort Myers on Monday, I planned to drive to my Airbnb straight from the airport to drop off my things. Five minutes outside the airport roads I hit Jet Blue Park, the Red Sox spring facility. There was no game that day but needless to say I stopped in to check out the park. Ten minutes later, I hit a bunch of traffic and noticed cars turning into a lot with a sign for “Century Link Sports Complex.” It was game day for the Minnesota Twins at their spring facility. A right turn and a $10 ticket later, I was sitting in left field watching a baseball game less than half an hour after landing. Anywhere you can hit multiple ballparks within 10 minutes is a place I’d like to live.
In four days I hit four baseball games at three different parks. The laid back atmosphere of spring training means cheaper tickets (though beer was at regular season price) with the chance to still see some of your favorite players. I noticed the parks thinned out around the seventh inning of most games, much like both teams dugouts. Starters would play a solid four or five innings before the bench guys started rotating in. For some, that’s the cue to pack up and avoid the traffic rush leaving the park. The big names have hit the showers and headed home, so many fans do the same. For me, that’s when the games got interesting. The second, third and sometimes fourth string guys playing each position are unlikely to make it to the big leagues anytime soon, if ever. However, they’re all playing with the intensity of someone literally competing for their job. These are the guys running extra hard in a blowout March game, diving for unlikely outs and making every effort to stand out. Not to say the starters aren’t also working hard, but the guy from Salem at the plate might have more to prove than a Jackie Bradley Jr. or Dustin Pedroia. Not to mention these names could quickly work their way into conversation as the season progresses and injuries occur.
From a baseball perspective, spring training is obviously essential. Offseason acquisitions use the less competitive environment to gel with their new teammates and learn the way the new team works. Though many pitchers use their offseason effectively, it’s crucial that they work their arm slowly up to regular season strength. Spring training gives managers the chance to test their depth at different positions, see who works well where (and who doesn’t). Unless you care who your fourth potential third baseman is, spring training games may be pretty boring for you. Luckily, in just less than two weeks you’ll have forgotten all about them.
Molly Burkhardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.