Baseball is synonymous with springtime. As our favorite ball players dust off their gloves and start lathering up the pine tar in Arizona and Florida, we watch with envy and wait the final few weeks for the world to thaw. Many fans visit the various spring training homes of their beloved teams to feel the warm breeze, listen to the crack of a line drive, and debate whether their underachieving star will FINALLY stay healthy for 162 games.
These areas of Arizona and Florida are gorgeous to look at and offer flawless weather – but there are many more things to do in spring training locations outside of spending your entire day on the baseball field.
Sarasota, FL (Baltimore Orioles)
Between the Lines: The 2014 season will mark the Orioles fifth Spring Training at Ed Smith Stadium. The stadium was built in 1989 and was renovated prior to the 2011 season. Tickets cost as low as $9 per game. The stadium features 7,100 seats recycled from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles players include stars center fielder Adam Jones, first baseman Chris Davis, new pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, and catcher Matt Wieters. The Orioles are looking to rebound from a disappointing 2013 campaign after shockingly making the playoffs in 2012.
Outside The Box Score: Located on the gulf coast of Florida, Sarasota offers much to do both above and below sea level. For the art lovers, be sure to visit The Ringling. This area houses many museums and theaters – you could spend an entire day there and still have more to see. For the lover of legitimate theater, the Sarasota Opera and Asolo Repertory Theater are highly recommended. For the kids, check out the amazing feats of acrobatics and strength at the Sailor Circus. For afternoon relaxation, take a stroll through the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens featuring some of the most beautiful flowers in Florida. If your family loves animals, check out the Cat Depot (yes you can pet them), Mote Marine Aquarium, and the Big Cat Sanctuary (no you probably shouldn’t pet them.) For the adventurous group, visit the Myakka River State Park (complete with insane canopy walkway) and spend the day hiking and enjoying the wildlife. If you’re hungry, eat at Gentile Bros Authentic Cheesecake or the Mozzarella Fella (if for nothing else but the awesome name.) You’ll love spending time in Sarasota.
Bradenton, FL (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Between the Lines: The 2014 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates is highly anticipated due to their surprising success last year. This year marks the 46th Spring Training at this location, which is one of the longest relationships between an MLB team and their spring home. Reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen will show off his skills along with the other Pirates at McKechnie Field which recently finished a $10 Million upgrade to its facilities and fan offerings.
Outside The Box Score: North of Sarasota and south of Tampa Bay is where you’ll find Bradenton, FL, nestled on the west side of the state. When you visit, the Robinson Nature Preserve is a solid choice for hiking, walking, bike riding, or just being surrounded by Florida Gulf wildlife and nature. Along the same vein, the Treeumph! Adventure Course makes for a wild day among the pines with zip lining, obstacles, and climbing. The South Florida Museum and Aquarium has the most comprehensive historical look at the area and features a manatee show! The Astro Skate and Fun Center is a fantastic choice for a family with young kids looking to stay out of the hot Florida sun for a few hours. For those looking for an adult beverage under that same sun, the Rosa Fiorelli Winery & Vineyard features tours and tastings all day. Bradentown Scoop has the best ice cream in the area, and Arts & Eats Restaurant and Gallery (though a bit shoddy looking on the outside) has incredible food and fine art. Stay in a rental on Bradenton Beach if you can.
Clearwater, FL (Philadelphia Phillies)
Between the Lines: Despite a roster stacked with stars, the Phillies underachieved in 2013, angering the especially rabid Philadelphia fan base. Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels hope to turn that around when their season begins at Bright House Networks Field. The 2014 season will mark the Phillies 68th Spring Training in Clearwater and the 11th at this location.
Outside The Box Score: West of Tampa you’ll find charming Clearwater, FL. Without a doubt Clearwater Beach is one of the most gorgeous, white sand, flawless beaches in all of America. Going there for a day, or a few hours, is a must. For the more adventurous, don’t miss out on the guided Jet Ski tours offered in the area. The SimCenter is a complete flight/race car simulation – you can “drive” or “fly” your own Boeing 747 or Formula 1 car. The Congo River Adventure Mini Golf Course is very highly rated and if you can pull yourself away from the arcade, you have the chance to feed a LIVE alligator. Clearwater features some of the most scenic golf courses and country clubs in the area too. Ward’s Seafood Market is the go-to for fresh, local fish and the Salt ‘n’ Pepper Bistro is one of the best places for lunch or dinner. Book your place to stay in Clearwater as soon as possible.
Mesa, AZ (Chicago Cubs)
Between the Lines: 2014 marks the opening of the brand new Cubs Park in Mesa. The Cubs have been in Mesa since 1952 and moved from Hohokam Stadium. The long suffering Cubs fans are still waiting for a World Series victory, or at the very least to field a respectable team. As a tradition, during the Seventh inning stretch of a Cub spring training game, a fan is selected to stand on the dugout and lead the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
Outside The Box Score: Mesa is located 20 miles southeast of Phoenix, in almost the middle of Arizona. The Mesa Arts Center features the world’s top comedians, musicians, and shows. For those looking to escape the desert heat, spend some time indoors at the Arizona Museum of Natural History or the Commemorative Air Force Museum. The Salt River Tubing is a required stop for the adventurous family and takes between 3-6 hours. Organ Stop Pizza is a really fun place to eat a pie and listen to your favorite songs converted in a wacky organ version. Indian Oven is ranked #1 of 766 restaurants in Mesa on TripAdvisor. For shopping, the Mesa Market Place Swap Meet is a southwestern experience that needs to be seen to believed, and although not native to this region, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill provides fantastic nightlife entertainment. It’s really easy to find affordable rentals in the Mesa area too.
Tempe, AZ (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)
Between the Lines: The Spring Training home of the Angels, Tempe Diablo Stadium, sits under a picturesque mountain area. Newsweek Magazine Rated Tempe Diablo the Best Spring Training Venue in the Country in Feb. 2003. This star studded lineup features Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton along with pitchers CJ Wilson and Jered Weaver. That group is worth the price of admission to see in spring training, though their first season together in 2013 was not worthy of much.
Outside The Box Score: A 15 minute drive west from Mesa has you arriving in Tempe, AZ. As in Mesa, the Tempe Center for the Arts is well-visited and respected for their daily shows. Arizona State University is in this area, and the gorgeous campus can be simply walked along to enjoy – but go inside the raucous athletic buildings and fields and see a game if you can. The Mill Avenue District is a shopping, nightlife, and dining area that equals any in the state. The Sea Life Aquarium and Gameworks Arcade are both fun spots for kids. During the day, imbibe at the Four Peaks Brewing Company, and at night visit the dueling piano bar called The Big Bang. Tempe vacation rentals are really affordable as well.