Spring Training – “The Best Week of the Year”

“Life Begins Anew!”

When my father was alive, he would call on that special February day and exclaim: “Life begins anew – the pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training!” It is in that spirit that we start our annual spring training adventure that we call “the best week of the year.”

It all started in business school in the late ’90s. I met a new friend – Ken – and we realized that we were both baseball fans. Soon, our discussions began. “Wouldn’t it be great if we went to spring training?” Or, “It’s freezing here, and we could be in Florida.” Or, “Another opening day and we didn’t go to Spring Training!”

In 2004, we called each other’s bluff and decided to give the adventure a try. The result is that this year is the 16th installment of the weeklong tradition that we call “the best week of the year.”

Where Should We Go?

An evident and excellent question, when we started planning was “where should we go.” Each of us had been to Florida and knew our way around, but had not traveled for Spring Training. We wanted a convenient place where we could indulge in baseball, sun, good food, and relax. We didn’t want to drive a lot. Finally, it would be a plus if we could see the Braves (Ken’s team) and the Mets (my team) occasionally.

There are currently 15 teams playing throughout Florida. In 2004, I believe there were a few more, so we thought we had many choices. In actuality, we only found one spot that fit our needs. However, it was a great choice.

We started deliberations – where all deliberations tend to start – at a local Starbucks. I brought a Spring Training map divided into three sections – Central, West Coast, and East Coast to help us decide where to focus. Later, I listed the games at each stadium for the four days that we had scheduled to be there. Yes, when we started, we thought that a short, four-day trip would be enough. Silly idea!

Jupiter, Florida was the best choice that year, and we have been going ever since.

Why Jupiter?

Many towns/stadiums only support one team, and thus, daily games are likely not available. Since Jupiter hosts both the Cardinals and Marlins, we can expect to see at least a game each day. “At least” a daily game, because we can see a second game at another stadium if the planets align correctly.

Why not one of the other areas that also support two teams?

  • There are many teams clustered around Tampa. However, two of those teams are the Yankees and the Phillies. With our allegiance to the Mets and the Braves, do I need to explain the issue? OK, we don’t relish the thought of spending a week dominated by the Yankees and the Phillies. After all, it’s supposed to be a vacation. We’re more comfortable on the other coast, buffered by most of the state of Florida.
  • Fort Myers has the Red Sox and the Twins. However, it is one of the more isolated of all the Spring Training sites. It would be difficult to find other games when needed.

We also found that Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium is a nice place to see a game — not too big, not too loud, you can sit close to the action, easy parking, good food, and beer. We also like hanging out in the area. The people are friendly, the lodging is as good as we need and the restaurants are wonderful.

In 2015, our situation got even better when the Astros and Nationals moved to a new complex in West Palm Beach. Now we have even more choices. Also, the Mets have always been just 45 minutes north, so we can go there as well.

A Twin Bill?

On the rare occasion that there is not a game at Roger Dean, we can try West Palm or Port St. Lucie. We also have the twin bill opportunities discussed above. Last year, we were enjoying a beer at a microbrewery just down the block from Roger Dean.

Please take a moment and consider this concept to understand the joys of Spring Training fully. After enjoying the sun in a small ballpark watching baseball, you can walk five minutes to a microbrewery. Any more questions as to why we go?

Anyway, we were enjoying a beer at a microbrewery just down the block from Roger Dean when we noticed that the Mets and Nationals were playing in West Palm Beach that evening. I used the MLB app to buy tickets to the game. A few hours later, we were watching Zach Wheeler try and figure out how to pitch. He had a rough night and was a far cry from his brilliant second half of the season. Meanwhile, Max Scherzer displayed the brilliance of throwing first pitch fastballs and having excellent command.

Travel Plans

We more than enjoyed our first four-day trip, but of course, the trip was too short! So, the next year we pushed the schedule to five days. When five days wasn’t enough, we extended the tours to six days. Finally, we “cried uncle” and began renting condos or rooms at a resort for their minimum of seven days. Still not enough, but we worked for a living and had to go home.

Early on, we tried to fly down early on a Saturday morning, in time for the afternoon game. By doing so, we avoided paying for a hotel room on Friday night. Initially, we’d return late on the last day of the trip after seeing most of an afternoon game. However, that arrangement was not satisfactory. It made Saturday a very long and challenging day, and we missed a lot of the final game.

Additionally, In March there is the risk of missing the Saturday game if bad weather causes delays. One year, we were stuck in Baltimore when we changed planes. The plane was frozen to the tarmac and needless to say, we were late to the afternoon game.

Our Time Tested Ritual

Our time-tested ritual is to fly down on a Friday evening, so we avoid any transit problems. We stay in an inexpensive hotel near the airport when we arrive around midnight. The next morning we have a leisurely breakfast, go to the game, and then check into our hotel/resort. Later we have a nice dinner at one of Jupiter’s fabulous restaurants. For the rest of the week, we work out at Gold’s Gym in the mornings, and then go to a game. The days end with a dip in the pool, drinks from the pool bar and an excellent meal that evening. We follow this routine until we have to fly home the following Saturday after seeing eight games in seven days.

Making Arrangements

Our friends say that we have the arrangements down to a science. Ken reserves rooms by mid-November, once he knows which week in March he can take off. He has flight reservations before the end of the year. Once we know our flight schedule, I reserve a rental car.

MLB publishes the Spring Training schedules by mid-December, and we confirm our choices. I buy the tickets as soon as they go on sale – usually the second Saturday in January.

Unfortunately, this year I didn’t realize that the tickets went on sale the first Saturday in January. Consequently, I bought the tickets on Wednesday and two of our three Cardinal hosted games are in seats past third base. I had to buy bleacher seats for the third game when the Yankees make a rare visit. I bought them from Stubhub no less. As you might expect, Cardinal tickets go fast; Marlins tickets do not.

Our final statement when the trip is over is “only 51 weeks until we can go again.” This year, I’ll have many more baseball miles to go before I’m ready to think about Spring Training again.

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