If you enjoy Major-League Baseball, you’re in the perfect place. The Tampa Bay area is one of the prime spots for spring training.
Most MLB teams will report to sites in Florida and Arizona around Valentine’s Day and full-squad workouts begin shortly thereafter. The Tampa Bay area, a key spring-training hub for decades, features eight teams within an hour’s drive of Westchase.
For the uninitiated, here’s a primer:
What is spring training?
It’s the annual training ground for MLB teams in warm-weather sites — about two weeks of practices before a month’s work of exhibition games in March. In the opening weeks, the big-league workouts could include 70 to 80 players, but the rosters will eventually be whittled down to 26 for Opening Day. The rest of the players will be assigned to minor-league teams.
What can I see at spring workouts?
Most workouts begin daily at 10 a.m. There’s the non-exciting stuff like stretching and running, but you’ll also spot pitchers throwing bullpen sessions and hitters taking batting practice. You’ll see a concentration on fundamentals, such as pitchers learning to cover first base and hitters practicing their bunting. You might get lucky and take in a full-squad scrimmage, which is like a practice game.
Why should I go to spring workouts?
Well, admission is FREE. It’s a chance to bask in the sunshine and enjoy a cool outdoor activity. Best of all, you could score autographs and photos with some big-name players (and unknown players as well). The best part of spring training is the casual atmosphere. Players and coaches are usually relaxed and accessible. Hard-core fans relish the opportunity to interact with their baseball heroes in a setting that is much different than the all-business regular season.
How can I get those autographs and photos?
You’ll quickly learn the protocol. You won’t be the only one with this idea. Just assemble near the area where the players are leaving the workout. It’s always best to have your own pen and paper or baseball card where the player can sign. Use common sense. Players appreciate patience and good manners. They also respond better if you address them by name instead of shouting out, “Hey, No. 20! Can you sign my cap?’’
Where do I go?
Here are the Tampa Bay area’s spring-training sites:
- Atlanta Braves (North Port/Venice) — CoolToday Park, 18800 S. West Village Parkway, Venice, FL 34293. Phone: 941-413-5000. Website: Braves.com/springtraining.
- Baltimore Orioles (Sarasota) — Ed Smith Stadium, 2700 12th Street, Sarasota, FL 34237. Phone: 941-893-6300. Orioles.com/springtraining.
- Detroit Tigers (Lakeland) — Tiger Town, 2301 Lakeland Hills Blvd., Lakeland, FL 33805. Phone: 863-686-8075 Website: Tigers.com/springtraining.
- New York Yankees (Tampa) — George M. Steinbrenner Field, 1 Steinbrenner Drive, Tampa, FL 33614. Phone: 813-875-7753. Website: Yankees.com/springtraining.
- Philadelphia Phillies (Clearwater) — BayCare Ballpark, 601 Old Coachman Road, Clearwater, FL 33765. Phone: 727-467-4457. Website: Phillies.com/springtraining.
- Pittsburgh Pirates (Bradenton) — LECOM Park, 1611 9th Street West, Bradenton, FL 34205. Phone: 941-747-3031. Website: Pirates.com/springtraining.
- Tampa Bay Rays (Orlando) — ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, 700 S. Victory Way, Orlando, FL 34747. Phone: 407-939-5277. Website: RaysBaseball.com/springtraining. Note: Due to damage from Hurricane Ian, the Rays’ normal spring-training site in Port Charlotte is unavailable. The organization moved workouts to Orlando. After a Feb. 28 meeting with the Yankees, the home exhibition games will be played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
- Toronto Blue Jays (Dunedin) — TD Ballpark, 373 Douglas Ave., Dunedin, FL 34698. Phone: 727-733-0429. Website: BlueJays.com/springtraining.
What else do I need?
It’s probably wise to bring some sunscreen and bottled water (although most spring-training sites have food and drink for sale, along with a flurry of memorabilia and merchandise).
Want to meet a future Hall of Famer? Want to check out a hotshot rookie player before he makes it big? Want to get your baseball cards signed or make some unforgettable memories with your family?
Head to spring training.
It’s a Tampa Bay tradition.