Major League Baseball’s regular season doesn’t officially begin until March 31, but that can’t stop us from thinking about buying peanuts and Cracker Jacks and never coming back to the office. Of course, some fans are turning their diamond dreams into a reality now by following their favorite teams to Florida (Grapefruit League) and Arizona (Cactus League) for spring training. And while we think that’s a great game plan, we put together this handy guide to make sure the can’t-miss action and must-see hotels are on your lineup card, too.
Cactus League (Feb. 22-March 30)
There’s a lot to love about Arizona’s Spring Training layout, but the biggest draw to baseball fans might be the relatively close proximity of all the action. Though there are 15 teams playing in the Phoenix/Glendale area, no stadium is more than a 40-minute drive from another. So, theoretically, if you wanted to catch the Kansas City Royals or Texas Rangers at their ballparks in Surprise, Ariz. for a couple of innings, you could do that, then hop on the 101-North and be at an Arizona Diamondbacks or Colorado Rockies contest in Scottsdale by the seventh inning. Talk about your double play.
While a couple of Cactus League parks are as beautiful as Albert Pujols’ swing—L.A. Angels of Anaheim’s Tempe Diablo Stadium offers a mesmerizing view of the area’s rocky topography, for instance—but nothing quite compares to the Chicago Cubs’ HoHoKam Park in Mesa. The poor Cubbies haven’t seen a World Series appearance since 1945, yet die-hard followers still flock to the 12,500-seat attraction every spring, creating the most festive atmosphere in the league. In between screams with throaty fans, be sure to try the tasty Chicago dogs at the concession stand.
Where To Stay
You’ll find hotels all across Phoenix with respectable fan packages, but few are like the Arizona Biltmore, a posh property presenting its Play Package—room, baseball-themed amenity, daily breakfast, complimentary self-parking and waived resort fees for $359 per night—from March 1 through 31. The grand-slam treatment continues at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Phoenician this season with its Champions Package (starting on Feb. 22 at $489 per night). The deal includes a hyper-luxe room, daily lunch for two at Relish Burger Bistro, two stadium cushions and complimentary shuttle service to Scottsdale Stadium on San Francisco Giants game days.
Grapefruit League (Feb. 21-March 30)
Though only seven American League teams call Florida’s Grapefruit League home, two of those happen to be the extremely popular New York Yankees (who train in Tampa) and Boston Red Sox (in Ft. Myers). These longtime rivals play periodically in the spring, but they also find time to tussle with neighboring Sunshine State squads—the Yanks aren’t too far from the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin and American League champion Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, while the BoSox are less than a seven-mile drive from the Minnesota Twins. Elsewhere, the Washington Nationals (in Viera), Houston Astros (in Kissimmee) and Pittsburgh Pirates (in Bradenton) all have fans going batty around this time of year.
While there are certainly bigger parks in Florida than the Philadelphia Phillies’ palm tree-lined Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater (the Atlanta Braves’ 9,500-seat Champion Stadium in Orlando comes to mind) there aren’t any snazzier. The concourse at the Phillies’ stadium wraps around the 8,500-seat stadium and is completely open to the playing field, meaning you’ll never miss a pitch, even when you run to the concession stand for a cheesesteak. The view isn’t even bad in the left-field stands at Frenchy’s Tiki Pavilion, a full-fledge bar serving tasty cocktails during games.
Where To Stay
If you’re planning on attending a game on Florida’s west coast, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota hits it out of the ballpark with its luxuries (266 rooms with private balconies, Tom Fazio-designed golf course), lavish dining (just-opened Jack Dusty seafood restaurant) and location (less than three miles from Ed Smith Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Baltimore Orioles). However, if you find yourself on the Sunshine State’s east coast, the Jupiter Beach Resort is an all-star property that boasts a coastal chic feel and a diamond lover’s appeal, seeing that it’s just six miles from Roger Dean Stadium, where the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins train.
Photos Courtesy of Phoenix Stadium, Ritz-Carlton and Arizona Biltmore