Are you ready for spring? How about Major League Baseball?
If either appeals to you, it’s time to plan a trip to Florida since the Grapefruit League’s spring training schedule beckons you with both.
Starting on Feb. 22 and continuing through March 27, the cries of “play ball” and the crack of the bat will echo across the 15 spring training stadiums in the Sunshine State.
The stadiums are clustered on the state’s east and west coasts, with a couple on Interstate 4 between the two. With distances between stadiums ranging from just a few miles across town in places like Fort Myers, Sarasota and Tampa to a maximum of a little more than 200 miles across the state, it is relatively easy to take in several different teams and stadiums.
Good planning now for your trip is required if you don’t want to be disappointed. These relatively small stadiums sell out fairly quickly, especially when traditional rivals play each other. Nearby hotels also fill up often since spring training coincides with the annual Florida influx of snowbirds and tourists.
Most spring training stadiums are modern and up-to-date, with a wide range of amenities and concessions appropriate to the big leagues. Because the ballparks are smaller than regular season parks, most seats offer a more intimate view of the playing field than most major league patrons get to enjoy.
The quality of baseball in spring training is truly major league. While there are some tryout players who will not be starters in the majors — at least in the beginning of the 2018 season — most of the regulars play every day in spring training games, particularly as opening day approaches.
- Study the schedules of your favorite teams online and use the web to buy the game tickets you want now. They may not be available on game day.
- Buy your airline tickets to Florida now since flights often sell out.
- Don’t forget to reserve a rental car, too. They sell out at some locations.
- Plan your route in Florida and which teams and games you want to see and make appropriate hotel and in-state transportation arrangements now.
- Give yourself enough time on game days to cope with typically heavy traffic and long lines at restaurants.
Before You Go, Check Out:
- Spring training sites can be reached by highway, air or train.
- Airports offering nearby access to west coast stadiums include Tampa International (TPA), St. Petersburg-Clearwater International (PIE), Sarasota-Bradenton International (SRQ) and Southwest Florida International in Ft. Myers (RSW). Orlando International (MCO) and Palm Beach International (PBI) are fairly close to some east coast parks.
- By train, Amtrak serves Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach, in fairly close proximity to several ballparks via rental car and, in some cases, public transportation.
- Cruise ports at Tampa and Port Canaveral are close to several ball parks.
- By car, the ball parks are reached via Interstate 75, which runs down Florida’s west coast, and Interstate 95 on the east coast. Road travel between the coasts that is convenient to ballparks is via the Florida Turnpike, Interstate 4 or State Routes 70 and 80.
Must-sees for a Short Stay:
- At least one game.
- Seeing the major attractions in the spring training city of your choice.
If You Have Several Days:
- More than one game, maybe at more than one stadium.
- A trip to the beach and/or a deep-sea fishing trip or a round of golf.
- A sunset dinner cruise on the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico.
- A visit to Orlando for tourist attractions like theme parks or and/or a side trip to Cape Canaveral.
- Exploration of the many entertainment and cultural attractions where you are staying.
Ginny O’s Tips For Dressing The Simply Smart Travel Way For Grapefruit League Games: I’ve been to games in the low 30s, mid 80s and everything in between. Be prepared for anything from a cold drizzle to blazing sun. Bring a jacket, sunglasses, suntan lotion and a hat for your favorite team.
This Destination at a Glance:
Mobility Level: Most ballparks are handicapped-accessible.
When to Go: During spring training season. Be prepared for crowds everywhere, not just at the ballpark.
Where to Stay: Any place convenient to your preferred team’s spring training site.
Special Travel Interests: Baseball, Florida
Jews and Baseball
Jews have played an important role in baseball for most of its history.
They have been an integral part of the game as fans, broadcast and print journalists, players, coaches, managers, owners, and even as commissioner. Jews such as Bud Selig, Sandy Koufax, Al Rosen and Hank Greenberg are prominent figures in major league history.
Many Jews are active in the game today as players and executives.
Among the most notable is Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs. He was the youngest general manager in Major League Baseball history when the Boston Red Sox hired him at age 28. Two years later, they won their first World Series in 86 years. In 2011, he joined the Chicago Cubs, who won their first World Series in 108 years in 2016.
Seven of the 30 major league teams have Jewish owners.
The director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., is Jeff Idelson. When he walks the hallowed halls, he sees fellow Jews Greenberg, Koufax and Selig as inductees.
Allan Huber “Bud” Selig was the ninth commissioner of baseball, serving from 1992 to 2015 and is now the commissioner emeritus of baseball. Previously, he was the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers.
For more information on Jews in baseball, consult Jews and Baseball: Volume 1, Entering the American Mainstream, 1871-1948 by Burton A. Boxerman and Benita W. Boxerman and Jews and Baseball: Volume 2, The Post-Greenberg Years, 1949-2008 by the same authors.
Another book is American Jews and America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball by Larry Ruttman.
Also of interest is the DVD Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story directed by Peter Miller and starring Koufax and Ron Howard.
If you are an observant Jew and seek a Jewish environment when you travel to Florida to follow your favorite team(s) during the Grapefruit League spring training season, you are in the right place.
Florida has a significant Jewish population, and it largely coincides with the location of Grapefruit League teams. There are welcoming places of worship, kosher or kosher-style foods, and large Jewish communities on either coast of Florida and also around Orlando.
Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Fla.