CURE THE WINTER BLUES WITH BASEBALL

It’s hard to believe that it’s already January 3 and we are just two months from opening day in both the Cactus and Grapefruit Spring Training seasons. A little over a month from now, pitchers and catchers will report for the start of Spring Training workouts and the position players will be right behind them.

I, for one, have had enough of winter, even though, here in Maine, we have had mild weather so far, with only one snow fall, way back on Thanksgiving Day, and the second one beginning to fall as I write this.

Spring Training is what I wait all winter for. For any baseball fan, particularly the ones that live in my house, it seems like we have been without baseball forever. This is our year to go to Florida for our annual Spring Training pilgrimage. If you have read my weekly column in the Biddeford, ME, Journal Tribune over the past three years, you know that we alternate years between Florida and Arizona.

Both the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues are home to 15 teams for Spring Training and, beginning March 3, there are games every day and night right up until April 4, the day before the regular season begins. The season opens late this year, with Opening Night kicking off with a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs at night on Easter Sunday. The rest of the teams start the next day.

In addition to watching as many games as possible the last week or two of Spring Training, we plan to catch Opening Day of the regular season and the next two games at Tropicana Field with the Tampa Bay Rays hosting the Eastern Division Champion Baltimore Orioles. We will then start north and stop at Camden Yard to see the Sunday game between the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays as we wend our way home.

Spring Training in Florida is always exciting, particularly since I am a Yankee fan and my wife is a Red Sox fan and they both train there. In addition to being loyal fans, however, we are both fans of baseball in general and I prefer Arizona to Florida for two very basic reasons.

Number one, the weather in Arizona in March is almost always sunny and warm as opposed to Florida where it can be cool and/or rainy at that time. Secondly, the training facilities in Arizona are all in the greater Phoenix area, within a short ride of each other. In Florida, on the other hand, some of the parks are an hour or two apart, making it sometimes difficult to see ball games in different arenas.

In Arizona, it is not unusual for us to see two games in one day. One year, for example, we saw the Angels play the Rangers in Tempe Diablo Stadium in the afternoon, drove up to trendy Scottsdale, where we had a nice dinner outdoors at an excellent restaurant and then walked over to see the Giants play the Athletics at Scottsdale Stadium. Last year, in the last seven days of Spring Training, we took in 11 games, a feat that would usually involve a lot of driving in Florida.

In our years when we travel to Arizona, we generally stay for the first series of the year if the Diamondbacks are home. Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks play their home games, is a modern, fan friendly, ballpark, complete with retractable roof, located in the heart of downtown, a stone’s throw from the interstate with plenty of parking and lots of nice places to have lunch or dinner before the game within walking distance of the park.

While at Spring Training, whether in Florida or Arizona, I send articles about the teams’ progress to the Journal Tribune every few days and, this year, will also be doing talks about and signings of my new book, ‘ From Beer To Beards ‘, about the 2011-2013 Red Sox, at libraries in Lee County where the Sox training facility, Jet Blue Park, is located.

If you’ve begun to get cabin fever like I have every year at this time, the best cure is to plan a visit to spring training. Even the planning process makes the winter seem shorter and there is nothing like leaving the cold north and finding yourself in warm sunshine at a baseball game in Arizona or Florida.

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