1. If you're in Arizona, go to Surprise
If you’re heading to spring training and want to go see someone other than your favorite team, I would heartily recommend a trip to Surprise. Nestled in the middle of nowhere, the home of the Rangers and Royals hardly seems the place to be: Surprise doesn’t have the newest complex and it isn’t the quickest park to reach from wherever you’re coming from. After fighting crowds and ticket lines all weekend, however, I found that the ballpark’s relatively remote location is one of its best features.
Located northwest of every other complex, Surprise Stadium isn’t teeming with locals and neither the Rangers nor Royals send the kind of fan delegation that you’ll find at a Cubs or Dodgers game. Fewer fans means cheaper tickets and food, and also permits you more seating options and room to move around. Spring training ushers are unobtrusive by nature and particularly laid back in Surprise: you can waltz up to the first few rows behind home plate and as long as you’re not stealing someone else’s seat, nobody will bother you. The ballpark itself is nice and it offers viewers more shade than many of the other fields you can visit. Like all shared venues, there’s at least one big league game going per day and always plenty of activity on the back fields. All in all, there’s a little something for everyone in Surprise.
Plus, you’re not that far away from the In-N-Out in Peoria. —Brendan Gawlowski
2. If you're in Florida, go to Clearwater…
The Florida sites are a diverse bunch in a lot of ways beyond just their spread-out geography. There’s the big league feel of the Yankees in Tampa, the quieter grounds of the Nationals and Astros in the East, the Disney character (and prices) of the Braves and the stadium in a condo development with the Cardinals and Marlins in Del Boca Vista. And then there’s Clearwater, and there’s no place that feels more like a party—or more like a vacation—than the Phillies’ home. It’s right in the middle of a beach town, and from the Tiki Bar to the ballgirls, there’s no getting around that inside. After the game, Frenchy’s is the obvious choice, but there are plenty of spots along Clearwater Beach. And if you want to do it again tomorrow, the Blue Jays’ stadium in Dunedin is just six miles away, a nice escape from the long hauls of the Grapefruit League. —Zachary Levine
3. …and Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers
I have spent a lot of time tramping around the Grapefruit League over the years, usually using Fort Myers as a home base. This was all before this year’s renovation of Hammond Stadium, but I will still put forth a strong recommendation for the spring training home of the Twins based on my experiences in years prior.
This is one of those stadiums that just oozes old Florida spring training. Upon arrival, fans walk up a palm-tree lined path toward the main entrance, which is modeled after Churchill Downs. The minor-league fields and major-league batting cages are both actually located outside the gates and are very accessible to the public. This allows fans to wander around in the sun and watch big leaguers taking soft toss or light BP from directly behind the cage, and then turn 180 degrees and stand behind a back stop and watch young Twins prospects going through infield drills.
Once inside, be sure to sample the very solid BBQ stand behind home plate (I highly recommend the pork shanks). While I don’t miss the days of driving back and forth across Alligator Alley in a rental car, I do sometimes long for the wind-swept days I would spend at Hammond thinking about what the coming season had in store. —Jim Walsh
4. Bring sunscreen and water
Hopefully you're reading this and thinking "Everyone knows that." Believe me, when you work in public health, you'd be amazed what things people don't know. If you are going to Arizona and/or Florida, you are probably going for a) the baseball and b) the weather. It's March, and chances are you've been couped up in the snow for most of the last five months, so a trip to see your favorite team's minor leaguers take over from the bench guys in the fifth inning is just what the doctor ordered. Spring Training might be the first sunny 80 degree day you've seen in a long time. And you're probably a little out of practice with the whole sunscreen thing. While you're packing that bag now, make sure that you have a big bottle of the stuff. Ever notice that in the dugouts they have the big industrial sized vat of sunscreen for the players? Sunburn hurts and skin cancer sucks. While you're at it, if you are of age and plan on having a few adult beverages at the game, remember to bring along some water. Alcohol is a natural diuretic (it takes water out of your body) and as previously mentioned, you are probably out of practice with how much an 80 degree day takes out of your body. Now you knew that and of course, were planning to do that all along, right? —Russell A. Carleton
5. Break the radar-gun habit
It used to be that few regular-season broadcasts included constant radar-gun readings. These days, it seems like most spring telecasts include them. As such, we've become conditioned to watch the pitch, then look to the bug for the velocity. Spring is as good a time as any to break the habit. Next time you watch a game, challenge yourself to not glance on every pitch. Or better yet, pick a broadcast that doesn't display velocity whatsoever. At maximum, you'll be surprised at how little you miss it; at minimum, you'll realize we're all velocity addicts. —R.J. Anderson
6. Take your son/daughter to the back fields
If you are responsible for the livelihood young baseball or softball player, it's well worth your time to take in a workout on the spring training back fields before the afternoon big-league game. The back fields are where the teaching takes place. Big-league camp is about veteran preparation, going through their process and getting in their reps. The players on the back fields are younger, minor leaguers still learning the game. For some of them, this is their first time in the country. There are teenagers in the mix, still honing many of the same lessons that are being taught for the first time on youth fields. Anyone with a son or daughter interested in baseball or softball should get to a spring training complex early (these workouts typically start around 10 a.m.) so their future ballplayers can see the drills, see the practice, see the instruction first hand and just how similar it is to what they are doing back at home. Watching future big leaguers doing the same types of drills that their Little League coach is putting them through would be an invaluable experience for any growing ballplayer. —Jeff Moore
7. How to find quality beer in Arizona
Listen, we know you're gonna have fun watching baseball during the spring in Arizona. Check out your favorite team, get an eye on a hyped prospect or a new acquisition–that's the easy stuff. But beer, well, the beer in Arizona is a little tougher. This isn't California or Colorado or Oregon; there's no obvious go-to choice for a refreshing, tasty brew when you're in Arizona, but you still want to sample what the locals have to offer.
So here's your simple guide to enjoying the beer in Arizona. First, after getting through the hell that is the car rental situation in Phoenix, drive straight to Total Wine & More. There are plenty of them, just Google it or something. This isn't some small craft beer shop with a owner who'll answer every question you have with great detail, but it's basically a warehouse filled with booze, and plenty of quality beer. Find anything from Four Peaks Brewery–I like the Hop Knot, but people rave about the Kilt LIfter, I'm just not a Scotch Ale guy. Purchase a sixer or two (depending on your length of stay and your willingness to share) and go check into your hotel.
Now you have your hotel beer. Hotel beers are important. But you're gonna want to go out and drink beer too, it's natural to want human interaction. This is where most would tell you to go grab dinner at Pizzeria Bianco. Well, you don't just want pizza, you want beer, right? So head to Papago Brewing, where you can get some solid pizza and even better beer.
Do all that, get a cab home, go to sleep, then rinse and repeat the next day. Oh, try and squeeze in some baseball too, it's definitely worth it. —Sahadev Sharma