Florida Spring Training: Your Guide to Touring the Grapefruit Leagueby Alan Byrd
The Intrepid Traveler
ISBN 1887140476 Soft Cover. 224 Pages $15.95
“Florida Spring Training” by Alan Byrd should prove to be an indispensable companion to any baseball fan or traveler who might wish to visit the spectacle of baseball spring training in Florida. The thought of “traditional” spring training evokes nostalgic memories of old ballparks populated with hard core baseball fans sunning themselves in the mild spring climes and watching the new prospects show their stuff.
Thanks to television and the insatiable appetite for money professional sports has, this annual rite has transformed from that traditional one of pastoral serenity to one of high energy marketing. The changes that have taken place in the spring training experience are drastic and not altogether very old.
In days of yore -- and by that I mean 1987-88 -- in Scottsdale, Arizona, the San Francisco Giants played their exhibition games in rickety old Indian School Park. I had seats about ten feet from then general manager Al Rosen and the rest of the Giants management brain trust. The perimeter of the park was a fence of tall plank boards where passersby could literally watch the action through a knothole in the wood. Nobody did though because the ridiculously cheap tickets (I believe ours were $8) provided incentive enough to go inside. The park itself and the operations were run by a local beneficient organization called the Scottsdale Chorros and a lot of the money they made supported local charities.
Visitors to spring training in those days arose each morning and scanned the paper to see who was playing whom and where. One decided which game to see and went to the park where good seats were almost always available. The lone exception to this rule was old Ho Ho Kam Park, home of the Chicago Cubs. It was always crowded and tickets went fast. The crowd was the most partisan as well.
In a very short period of time spring training bid adieu to Norman Rockwell and howdy-do to Mickey Mouse and his corporate sponsor pals. The resulting change from staid tradition to sports marketing dynamic is what has created a need for a book like this one and Alan Byrd fills the need exceptionally well.
The book is logically organized, each chapter devoted to one of the spring training venues found in Florida. Each chapter is then divided into sections covering everything from directions to the park, to ticket prices, to what to do before and after the games. Individually each park is appraised as to various amenities. This appraisal is thorough, critical and objective.
Chapter six, for example, is devoted to the Cleveland Indians training base in Winter Haven. First a synopsis of the history there and an overview of what the visitor should expect from his visit. Following this are directions to the park and information on parking. The next section covers tickets – prices and availability, followed by a review of the game program. Food & drink information is to be had along with information on seats, shade and a schematic of the stadium. Byrd also includes observations on one important staple of spring training, the likelihood of obtaining players’ autographs. This is a key aspect to the experience of spring training. Finally, the chapter concludes with listings of bars, restaurants and attractions in the vicinity to see before and after the game.
At the end of the book each park/team is ranked and graded on a scale of 1-10 in five categories. How did the Cleveland Indians do? A lukewarm overall rating of 32. They rated an 8 in both “Intimacy” and “Comfort” but a below average 4 in the “Food & Drink” department. “Autographs” and “Style” were each rated at 6.
I was amused at the correlation between the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and their spring training site, Progress Energy Park, in St. Petersburg. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, since their inception, have had the crappiest record in the league, play in the crappiest stadium and have the crappiest attendance. The spring training acorn, it seems, doesn’t fall far from the tree. The Devil Rays spring training facility was far and away rated the worst. A badly-run organization has a badly-run spring training facility. Quelle surprise!
According to author Byrd, the best of all the Grapefruit League venues is the Vero Beach home to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Fortunately the book is updated annually and this is good because dynamics of what is now big business for the ballclubs and their host cities provide a constant state of flux and fans can no longer rely on the stasis that once enveloped spring training.
As a lifetime San Francisco Giants fan and denizen of the left coast I would like to see Mr. Byrd take his efforts to the Cactus League in Arizona.
--reviewed by Michael Eady