With spring break just ahead for many people, now is the time to look at the best Major League Baseball spring training facilities and maybe sneak off for a weekend to Arizona or Florida and take in a game or two and get ready for the season that is just around the corner.
For better or worse, here are my selections of the best of the best. The places that you need to visit during spring training to get a glimpse of your favorite team and how they are getting ready for the real deal, the upcoming season.
1. George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, Florida
No matter what you think of George Steinbrenner, anything with his name attached to it was done the right way. Whether or not you like the Yankees -- and personally, I can't stand them -- this is exactly what you would expect from the New York Yankees. Top of the line everything. The seats to the concessions to the field, everything is ridiculously amazing. This is one place that every baseball fan should check out. Things are a bit pricey, but this is the Yankees. There isn't a bad seat in the stadium which is nice, but concessions will cost you a pretty penny. You are paying for a very high player payroll, after all. The stadium seats 11,000 so for a spring training game, you can almost be assured of a place to sit and sit pretty much where ever you want to. Seats are comfortable and you almost forget the price you paid to get into the joint. Almost.
2. Tempe Diablo Stadium, Tempe, AZ
This stadium may be getting old, it is almost 40 now, and the seats are mostly bleachers, but they do have backs on them and the view from the stadium to the surrounding area is priceless. This is definitely a fan friendly facility and if you are trying to get an autograph, it is almost a certainty. Batting practice is taken on the field prior to the first pitch and players are more than willing to talk to fans and sign some baseballs. This is what it is all about in spring training. The California Angels call this stadium home for spring training and it is easy to see why. The staff is friendly and very lenient, letting people move around to find the seat that they like. Pricing isn't too high and if you can move up without paying more, why not? The Angels are also one of the major league teams that is competitive, year in and year out, so you will get to see a nice blend of top stars and those youngsters who may soon be. All in all, a must on any true baseball fan's list of places to see.
3. Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, AZ
This stadium is home to the Giants. Scottsdale Stadium can seat 12,000, so it is very seldom sold out and since they are in Arizona, there are more than enough teams that will visit that you will likely get to see a team that you like and you can root for them rather than the Giants. The biggest drawback here is the parking situation. You will have trouble finding parking nearby, but there are some parking garages nearby and that helps matters some. The food is pretty remarkable and there are plenty of options that are not very expensive. The quality is fantastic and that is a luxury when visiting spring training. The lawn seats, as they are called, are more expensive than most, although chances of catching a ball before or during the game are very high. That alone can make the price of a ticket worthwhile.
4. Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria, AZ
This stadium is actually home to a pair of teams, the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners. With two teams playing here, and seating capacity close to 13,000, it is almost impossible for the stadium to be sold out in the Phoenix metroplex. If you think that you are beginning to see a trend with the Arizona stadiums, it isn't a trend. The Phoenix area has made the teams feel welcome and what used to be a dominant Florida market isn't the case anymore. The biggest drawback to this stadium is the complex it is in, catering more to the players than to the fans. Most teams take batting practice on one of the practice fields and the players just aren't quite as accessible as they are at other facilities. That makes getting autographs harder for the fans as does the collection of souvenirs like baseballs and the like. Even with those drawbacks, you can still find a game or two that are worth watching and with the number of teams that call Arizona home in March, you can find your chance for autographs.
5. JetBlue Park at Fenway South, Fort Myers, Florida
This is a relatively new stadium, built in 2012, and we have to thank the Red Sox for doing so as it has helped to keep the air in Arizona pristine for the real teams. Just kidding This is a really nice stadium and a must-see for spring training enthusiasts. It is basically a replica of Fenway Park in Boston and is just about everything that you would expect out of a new stadium. There is the Green Monster seats and the wall is actually a bit taller than what you will find in Boston. Food is better than most would expect, as the Red Sox provide the same menus. Definitely worth a look if you are on a spring training run around the country.
6. Camelback Ranch, Phoenix, AZ
This is really one of the nicest spring training facilities there is and probably should have been rated number two or three on this list. The stadium can seat 13,000, which is often sold out because of the close proximity of the Dodger fan base to Phoenix and the cheap flights between the two cities. The seats are pretty much the same as you will find at Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine and unfortunately, a person can find themselves priced out of a day at the park. This is really about what the Dodgers are, and the White Sox are not. Food is really good and unique, offering a wide variety of Mexican entrees. It is pricey, but then again, what isn't these days? If you are a Dodger fan, check it out, if you are a White Sox fan, unless you are a true fan, you can probably wait 'til the Sox are back in Chicago.
7. Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, FL
Ed Smith Stadium is the spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles. That probably meant a lot more during the days of Cal Ripken Jr., or Brooks Robinson than it does now. It is an aging facility, although there have been some renovations that have helped things over the years. The facility itself dates to 1989 and there are areas where it shows. The stadium itself only seats 7,500 but that is plenty because what sets the ballpark apart from the others is the customer service. Concessions are not what I would have expected, higher priced and really just not that appetizing, but then again, if you go to a spring training game to watch the game, like I do, you either plan your dining for before the game or for after the game. It is a wide open venue, so be sure to pack plenty of sun screen. This is a fun ballpark and the players are accessible so enjoy if you choose to visit.
8. Bright House Field, Clearwater, FL
Bright House field is the spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies and the stadium seats around 8,800 fans. It is relatively new, being built in 2004, but they obviously built this one without any expectations of fielding a good major league ballclub. That may all change this year with the addition of Bryce Harper, but the tradition and culture of winning may have left this club a long time ago. In terms of concessions, there is only one thing that matters and that is the quality of the Philly cheesesteak sandwich and you can surely get a good one here. As the regular season approaches, it will likely be harder and harder to get seats as Harper works his way towards opening day.
9. Hohokam Stadium, Mesa, AZ
For those of you who have never heard of Hohokam Stadium, one thing is for sure, you are not a Cubs fan. This stadium is very spacious, seating over 13,000 fans and was built in 1997, so it is over 20 years old. It is no wonder that it is this spacious and for those of you who have visited the Phoenix area in the winter, it is like "Little Chicago." There are thousands of Chicago residents who make the annual trek to Arizona for some sunshine and to get away from the cold and snow of Illinois, and why not? Cub fans, as recently as 2009, set a Cactus League record for spring training attendance, so when I say book your tickets early, you should do so. There are people in Phoenix who buy up as many season tickets as they can for the Dodgers and Cubs and then resell them at a nifty little profit, keeping a few games for themselves to watch, so pay attention to tickets on sale on Ebay or other ticket venues and shop for the best price that you can get.
10. Champion Stadium, Kissimmee, FL
This is the spring home of the Atlanta Braves, and although this stadium was built in 1997, it has seen some great players come through here over the decades. Imagine being able to see the likes of Hank Aaron or Chipper Jones and Dale Murphy, pitchers like Greg Maddux and John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. So many more have made this place their spring home over the years and it has spawned so many championship team over the year that the ghosts of Champion Stadium must have some great games of their own when the stadium is empty and the fans and players have left. There is a reason for the name Champion Stadium and all you have to do is look back to the decade of the '90s when the Braves won all those division championships, even though they only won a single World Series. This place is the birthplace of championships and if you look closely, they haven't been very far off in recent years either. Good foot, good prices and good baseball is what you will get when you visit Champion Stadium.