It is time, people. Your copy of the Baseball Prospectus Annual has arrived. Your 30 Questions for 30 Teams articles are being written. MLB Network is starting to stir and stretch. The fantasy baseball invites are starting to show up in your mailbox. And, best of all, the trucks are starting to leave the home parks and venture southeast to Florida and west to Arizona.
It's happening! The first spring game -- between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Spartans, whoever that is! -- is exactly 17 days from today. You've almost made it.
I spent years thinking of Spring Training as that perhaps-mythical place that only rich people get to visit, happening far away from me. It was a destination I'd never actually get to see myself. But then I went, and I realized it's much simpler than that: It's just exhibition games, played in the sunshine, for exhibition game prices. You can really just go. It's so much easier than you think it is.
Thus, I thought, 17 days out from that first game, I might put together an itinerary for you to see all 24 Spring Training stadiums,14 in the Florida Grapefruit League and the 10 in the Arizona Cactus League. (This is different than our annual See 30 Stadiums in 30 Days To Start the Season piece, which will be coming in a few weeks.) I'm not going to worry about finding you a hotel, or tickets: The surprise of Spring Training is always that it's much cheaper than you think it's going to be, across the board; it's like going to Minor League games that feature MLB players. (MLB players that take one at-bat and then jog around the outfield during play, sure, but they're still MLB players.)
This is a schedule for you. Hop in the car and go.
Bright House Field, Clearwater, Fla.
Tampa Spartans at Philadelphia Phillies, 1:05 p.m. ET
The smart play, all told, is to start your trip in Arizona where it's already warm, and then wait for the temperature to catch up in Florida, but we're trying to hit all 24 stadiums, and Florida has games first. So, you get to see the first game, Philadelphia against the University of Tampa. Sometimes, the college teams actually win these games! Bright House Field is the regular season home of the Clearwater Threshers, and maybe you'll see the Phillie Phanatic, who will probably be the warmest person here.
JetBlue Park at Fenway South, Ft. Myers, Fla.
Boston College/Northeastern at Boston Red Sox, 1:05 p.m.
Leap day! It's an easy two-hour drive to beautiful JetBlue Park, which famously has its own Green Monster, albeit one with seats on it. (Look out for the line drives!) Red Sox fans famously pack all Spring Training venues, so get tickets now, while you can. Make sure to check out the Pesky's Pole replica too.
Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland, Fla.
Pittsburgh Pirates at Detroit Tigers, 1:05 p.m.
It's your first game featuring two Major League teams, and boy, what a fun World Series this would be. (It's not likely, but it's possible!) There are six games on March 1, which means Spring Training is really starting to get going now. This is the last time you'll see this stadium like this; it's going through a massive renovation as soon as Spring Training ends.
Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, Dunedin, Fla.
Philadelphia Phillies at Toronto Blue Jays, 1:05 p.m.
Fun piece of trivia about this place: In 1995, when baseball was considering starting the season with replacement players, the Blue Jays looked into playing regular season games here, because Canada law doesn't allow replacement workers. (Go, Canada!)
George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, Fla.
Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees, 1:05 p.m.
Just an easy jaunt across the water to The House That George Built, a lovely little stadium right across the street from Raymond James Stadium, where the Buccaneers play. If you are a Yankees fan and you haven't gone here yet, you are seriously depriving yourself. And even if you hate the Yanks, it's worth showing up: It's a place that you're likely to see a Reggie Jackson, or a Tino Martinez, or whoever, just milling around. (Before his death last year, you could usually count on seeing Yogi Berra here too.)
McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla.
Minnesota Twins at Pittsburgh Pirates, 1:05 p.m.
Many longtime Spring Training enthusiasts believe this to be the nicest of all the Florida ballparks. This relic was built in 1923 -- I didn't know anything in Florida was that old other than the residents -- and it has been the Florida home of the Pirates since 1969. I've not been here, but everyone I've talked to says that if you haven't been here yet, you haven't really been to Spring Training.
Osceola County Stadium, Kissimmee, Fla.
New York Mets at Houston Astros, 1:05 p.m.
Better enjoy this one: This is one of two Florida stadiums that is losing its team this year. The Astros are moving into a new West Palm Beach complex in 2017, which they will share with the Nationals. This is the smallest stadium of all of the Spring Training locales.
Tradition Field, Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Atlanta Braves at New York Mets, 1:05 p.m.
Like all East Coast teams, the Mets fans show up in droves to see their team, and that'll be multiplied this year, considering that they made the freaking World Series last year. Port St. Lucie doesn't have the most electrifying social scene, so Sunday is a good day to check this one out.
Space Coast Stadium, Viera, Fla.
Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals, 1:05 p.m.
Another stadium saying goodbye to Spring Training this year, with the Nationals moving in with the Astros, this is not thought of as one of the loveliest Spring Training venues. But you have to check it out while you can, and since you're in the neighborhood, the Kennedy Space Center is only 13 miles away.
Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, Fla.
Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles, 1:05 p.m.
This is your longest drive, but it's worth it. A 2011 renovation has turned Ed Smith Stadium into one of the loveliest Spring Training ballparks. Plus, you're right on the water. You won't regret this one.
Hammond Stadium, Ft. Myers, Fla.
Philadelphia Phillies at Minnesota Twins, 1:05 p.m.
This is a stadium meant to conjure up images of plantations and Churchill Downs, and even though it's not in one of the most active areas, it's still a pleasant place. And Twins fans will love it for another reason: Minnesota won their last World Series right after it opened. Unless that means it's cursed, since they haven't won one since?
Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte, Fla.
Pittsburgh Pirates at Tampa Bay Rays, 1:05 p.m.
Don't get confused: The Yankees play in Tampa, and Tampa plays in Port Charlotte. Florida! The Rays are thought to have the worst park in Major League Baseball, but many believe they have the best one in Spring Training: There's a boardwalk, suites, a massive press box and multiple playgrounds. I'm sure I'm not the first person to just recommend that they play regular season games here.
Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla.
Atlanta Braves at St. Louis Cardinals, 1:05 p.m.
Roger Dean is the only stadium that currently hosts two teams -- the Cardinals and the Marlins -- though the Nationals and Astros will share a venue next year. This is a perfectly average and capable Minor League stadium, with some bars within walking distance in case you want to watch college basketball after the game (this is conference tournament week). It's better to see a Cardinals game here than a Marlins game, if just because there are more fans, though a Barry Bonds sighting at a Marlins game might switch that around.
Champion Stadium, Lake Buena Vista, Fla, 6:05 p.m.
Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves
What better way to wrap up the Florida leg of our journey than with a night game? This is part of the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, so you know that going in.
--- All right. Now fly yourself to Arizona. We'll give you a day to make the trip. ---
Sloan Park, Mesa, Ariz.
San Diego Padres at Chicago Cubs, 4:05 p.m. ET
No place better to kick off your Arizona sojourn that in Sloan Park, home of the Cubs. This is the most exciting year to be a Cubs fan in recent memory, so get your tickets now, and be ready to pay non-Spring-Training prices for them. The Cubs are gonna be the most expensive ticket in the game this year, all year.
San Francisco Giants at Oakland A's, 10:05 p.m. ET
Oh, yeah, doubleheader! If you're in Mesa already, you'd be foolish not to try both. This is the best part of being in Arizona: There are only 10 stadiums (to 15 teams), and none of them are very far from each other. Doubleheaders can become the norm here, and why wouldn't they?
Surprise Stadium, Surprise, Ariz.
Cleveland Indians at Texas Rangers, 4:05 p.m. ET
Surprise Stadium is also home to the defending champion Royals, so you are forgiven if you decide to wait for a Royals game. But the Rangers might just hold that title next Spring Training.
Maryvale Baseball Park, Phoenix, Ariz.
Chicago White Sox at Milwaukee Brewers, 4:05 p.m. ET
You can still get Klement's bratwursts here, but otherwise, it's fairly bare bones: Amateur leagues play here in the offseason, but no major college teams. You can bring in your own food, always a plus in Spring Training. It's nestled into a little Phoenix neighborhood, which is sort of charming.
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Cincinnati Reds at Arizona Diamondbacks, 9:40 p.m. ET
Another doubleheader! It's a little confusing to drive an hour outside of Phoenix to go see an Arizona Diamondbacks home game, but Scottsdale certainly provides plenty of entertainment opportunities. Good luck remembering the name of this stadium, though.
Camelback Ranch, Glendale, Ariz.
Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers, 4:05 p.m. ET
The Dodgers set a franchise record in attendance last season, and they sell Dodger Dogs here now too. Another reason to make sure to catch them when the Dodgers are playing, rather than fellow stadium tenant, the Chicago White Sox.
Tempe Diablo Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 4:10 p.m. ET
Very easy to get to -- it's shockingly close to the airport -- but hard to get out of: There's not much parking, or neighborhood, around there. It may take you a while to get out of there, which is important, because you've got another game at night.
San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants, 10:05 pm. ET
Considered perhaps the nicest, along with Sloan Park, of all the Arizona venues, this also hosted some World Baseball Classic games 10 years ago. The United States team even played there. (They beat South Africa, 17-0. Ken Griffey Jr. had two homers and seven RBI.)
Peoria Sports Complex
Colorado Rockies at San Diego Padres, 4:10 p.m. ET
This is your final day. Can you believe it? One last doubleheader. Both the Padres and the Mariners have leases here until 2034, so if you miss it this time, you know that you've got a few years left to catch them.
Chicago Cubs at Cleveland Indians, 10:10 p.m. ET
You've made it! You saw all 24 Spring Training ballparks, in less than three weeks. And you still have two weeks to get home and prepare for Opening Day. What are you waiting for? Get out there and do it, fools.