Spring training promises to be a grand slam this year, thanks to three years of canceled, wonky seasons because of COVID and then, the MLB lockout.
There are 30 MLB spring training teams—15 play in Florida’s Grapefruit League and 15 play in Arizona’s Cactus League.
“So far we are seeing an uptick,” says Jay Smith, president, of Sports Travel and Tours (STAT), licensed travel provider of The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. STAT works directly with travel agents in customizing a FIT; the full booking goes to the agent.
“We get more inquiries once football is over and people’s heads turn back to baseball,” Smith says group travel requests for spring training games are also up this year.
“Many travel agents aren't that savvy on MLB teams that play in other cities,” says Smith. “So coming to STAT and having us plan the program for travel agents’ clients is just ease of operation for the travel agent. We know what are the better seats, not in the sun (if needed), hotel proximity to the ballparks, going to a visiting teams ballpark that is only a few minutes away but yet one gets to see their favorite team play.”
This year, fans should expect game ticket prices to be higher than pre-Covid, says Smith. Most of the teams also now have dynamic pricing so depending on the day of the week and the opponent dictates the cost of the tickets, he says.
Many of the ballparks are near popular attractions and sites that one could easily add to their trip, says Smith. “If in Arizona, for example, a side trip for a day up to Sedona to see the beauty of the red rocks, maybe a jeep trip is a great added attraction,” he says. “Florida spring training is a bit more spread out than Arizona but most team ballparks are near the beaches, attractions like Busch Gardens, Disney World or, on the east coast, one could drive down to the Florida Keys.”
This winter is known as Super Season in Scottsdale because The Grand Canyon State hosts a twin bill—the Super Bowl on February 12 and the spring training games beginning February 25.
“With more than 300 sunny days a year, you could say we have everything under the sun,” says Nina Lora with the Arizona Office of Tourism. Including, she says, the “spring training ballpark of the decade” at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, home to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. The stadium opened in 2011 as the first Major League Baseball Spring Training facility in the country to be built on Indian land.
The Cactus League's ten ballparks are all in the Phoenix metro area, about an hour's drive from each other, so fans can follow their team in several stadiums. F
Home base in Arizona
Mountain Shadows Resort’s “Ballpark Package” includes a 20 percent room discount,
A Home Run Welcome Amenity, a $50 daily poolside food-and-drink credit, half-off cabanas Monday through Thursday, and comp golf clubs for rounds booked at The Short Course. Available for stays between February 20 and March 31; must book by March 15.
Book the “Home Run Package” at the Adero Scottsdale Resort (near Mesa). The package includes accommodations, a $50 food and beverage credit, two domestic beers per stay, and baseball snacks (popcorn, Cracker Jacks, Big League Chew). Available February 24 through March 31.
Book the “Batter Up! Package” at the Rise Uptown Hotel in Phoenix. It includes accommodations, a $25 daily food-and-drink credit, and a cooler packed with a six-pack of beer, koozies, Cracker Jacks, and Big League Chew. Available for stays from February 23 through March 28.
The Aloft Glendale at Westgate offers two discounted packages available during spring training. The “Stay and Play” package includes up to 25 percent off room rates, and two drinks per day, and the “Glendale Staycation” includes breakfast for two, parking, and late check-out.
Florida's 15 teams play ball beginning February 25 through March 28; their home stadiums are spread throughout the state.
Fortunately, with minimal repercussions from Hurricane Ian, the stadiums in Fort Myers have been repaired and are ready to welcome fans. The Boston Red Sox play at JetBlue Park—their springtime home known as Fenway South. And the Minnesota Twins play at Hammond Stadium located within the larger Lee County Sports Complex. Many, but not all of the hotels have reopened since the hurricane, although the Fort Myers beaches are still not open for the most part.
Tampa is home to two teams for spring training. This year marks the 28th spring training season for New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
And the Tampa Bay Rays get swinging on Feb. 28 against the Yankees. The afternoon game will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The team’s traditional training home at Charlotte Sports Park was damaged by Hurricane Ian. Note: The first half of spring training for the Tampa Bay Rays will be at Disney and the rest of their home games at Tropicana Field.
The New York Mets play at Clover Park stadium in St. Lucie, located on the east coast of Florida, one hour north of Palm Beach. “This year’s ticket sales for spring training are trending 30 percent higher than the sales in early 2020,” says a spokesperson for St. Lucie.
And Bradenton, located between Sarasota and Tampa, is home to LECOM Park, the official spring training location for the Pittsburgh Pirates. LECOM Park is the third oldest stadium still being used by a major league team after Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.
Home base in Florida
In Tampa, Book Hilton Tampa Downtown’s “Home Run package”—guests get a $50 daily hotel credit per room and accommodations. The package is available from February 24th to March 28th.
In Port St. Lucie, there are several hotels near Clover Park, some within walking distance. They include:
- Residence Inn by Marriott
- Hilton Garden Inn PGA
- Sheraton PGA Vacation Resort
- Springhill Suites by Marriott
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites
- Hampton Inn & Suites
- Mainstay Suites at PGA
- Tru by Hilton Port St. Lucie, Tradition
- Homewood Suites by Hilton, Tradition
- Courtyard by Marriott, Port St. Lucie, Tradition
In Bradenton, The Pirates have partner hotels, some of which offer discounts for Pirates fans.
A roster of spring training planning tips from Sports Travel and Tours
- Book early to get decent game tickets.
- Book airfare first to make sure the cost is something that is affordable and in your budget. It’s frustrating to get all the elements of the program set to then find out the flights or car rentals are double or triple what had been expected.
- Talk about what category and type of hotel the client desires and book it.
- If renting a car, again book early. Car rental companies have fewer people and fewer cars. The higher demand and fewer cars also mean anticipated high costs.
- Come to spring training with patience since some of the hotels and ballparks are short-staffed.