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Trekking to baseball’s spring training has become an annual pilgrimage for many Americans, who roll or fly to Arizona or Florida to watch their favorite major league players up close. Seeing the games is one thing, but have you ever thought, Can you watch spring training practices also?
Visitors can watch spring training practices and workouts for major league baseball, until exhibition games begin, generally. Typically, once the spring training game schedule begins around the start of March, teams stop hosting workouts regularly on the accessible practice fields.
How to watch baseball spring training practices depends much on the team. Major league ball clubs either operate their own spring training facilities, or share them with another club, and complexes (and rules for them) differ.
The more modern spring training facilities were designed with fan involvement and enjoyment in mind, responding to the popularity over the years of planning entire vacations around spring training experiences.
Insight to See Spring Training Practices Up Close
It’s good to know in advance which facilities lend themselves best to watching spring training practices, because the window to do so is only about 2 weeks — from the time pitchers and catchers report to the start of the preseason game schedule. As stated before, once exhibition games between MLB clubs begin, practices or team workouts are sporadic and not as accessible at that.
That said, here are some tips to plan a sneak peak at how MLB baseball clubs practice and prepare for the upcoming season — and get as close as you might ever get with pro players:
- First, know that teams don’t typically practice in the spring training stadiums or game-play fields. Most often, practices can be found on fields or spaces adjacent or near the main stadiums of the usually expanse training complexes (an indicator that spring training has become big business over the years).
- Attraction points for watching spring training practices include how easy it is to get player autographs; and the fact that being there is free.
- Since the media usually skips workouts in favor of game coverage, visitors get closer access to the action — so close at times you can hear conversations between players and coaches. Heck, players sometimes wander through public places filled with fans. (Note to parents: be careful with little ones as player language can be unfiltered).
- Remember, you only have 2 weeks to get this intimate experience near major league players; and only about 3 hours per day at that so plan visits wisely.
- Practices usually begin around 9 or 10 a.m., and it’s best to be early especially if you’re into baseball fundamentals and enjoy watching coaches drill players. For the 2 weeks before games start, practices are daily including weekends.
- For autographs, think right after practice as players leave the field; forget about batting cage sessions as it’s a rather unwritten no-no to interrupt during this portion of their work. Never forget that these fields are their workplace; respect their on-field focus, and only politely converse in between when possible.
- Don’t assume that only pitchers and catchers arrive a few days earlier than everyone else. Position players can voluntarily arrive early, especially if they are recovering from off-season injury treatments.
- For those totally new to spring training, there are two “leagues”: The Grapefruit League in towns all over Florida; and the Cactus League in Arizona.
Good Spring Training Practice-Watching Opportunities
- Los Angeles Dodgers, at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona. The team practices on 6 fields east of Camelback Ranch and the complex’s gates open at 9 a.m. (Side note: the Dodgers share the complex with the Chicago White Sox, who practice on the western part of the complex, so Sox fans take notice). Much of the splendid offerings found at Dodger Stadium in L.A. is emulated here.
- New York Yankees, at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. The Bronx Bombers went all out in their complex honoring their former owner. Practice fields are next to the stadium, parking is plentiful and the team is kind enough to state that practicing is “generally” from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (But assume that sometimes they might sneak in a bit early).
- St. Louis Cardinals, around Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. Look for several practice fields behind the clubhouse at the main field’s right-center field fence. A little path off University Boulevard leads right to a gate to the main practice field — a nice touch for a club known to acknowledge its fans.
- Boston Red Sox, in a new stadium-complex opened just in 2012 in Fort Myers, Florida. This facility has the Player Development Complex and 6 practice fields not far at all from a Green Monster left-field wall at the club’s main JetBlue Park. This big “Fenway South” complex, rivaling that of its arch-enemy Yankees, opens gates at 9 a.m.
- Detroit Tigers, at its Tigertown complex in Lakeland, Florida. Practice fields are behind an end of Joker Marchant Stadium. Down the right-field side is a wrought iron entrance gate near the Tigers clubhouse. Bonus: watch workouts from outside the facility by situating behind outfield fences of practice fields Nos. 2 and 3.
- Chicago Cubs, in Mesa, Arizona. Another brand-new facility, opened in 2014, features 6 full-size practice fields plus a half-field all adjacent to Sloan Park. Practice times “often” begin at 9 a.m., and last to “approximately” 12:30 p.m.
Question: How many MLB spring training complexes are shared?
Answer: 7 (14 teams total share, or nearly half the league).
Q.: Do teams practice at all once spring training pre-season games begin?
A.: Yes, but usually just on the main stadium field before games. Sometimes teams may hold batting practice or drills on fields close to the stadium, but these experiences are not as intimate as the practices you can see before games start.
Q.: Are practice times set and firm?
A.: Not usually. You might notice that most times are listed online or elsewhere as “approximate”; practice and workout times are at the whim of the manager. Special events or meetings can bump practice times.
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