Every Spring Training site has value as a refuge from the trifles, the travails and, for many of us, the temperatures of so-called "real life." The scaled-down structures, the relative ease of access and the somewhat frivolous feel to the ballgames coalesce to create an alternative baseball universe that feels fascinatingly foreign and familiar at the same time.
In short, if you have the opportunity to follow your favorite team to its home away from home, take it.
But I'm not going to try to tell you that all Spring Training sites are created equal. There's a reason, for instance, that the Nationals are leaving Viera -- otherwise known as "Vi-where?-a" -- next year. It's just too secluded from other spring spots. And with the bar for what is expected of a sports stadium (even in an exhibition setting) set increasingly high, there are some facilities that are in need of updating with more shade or better concessions or more parking or fewer exposed sprinklerheads for outfielders to step on and tear their meniscus.
So let's focus here on the elite exhibition environs. Having covered plenty of preseason ball in Florida and Arizona, I've been everywhere, man, and this is my personal top 10.
10. Roger Dean Stadium
Teams: Cardinals and Marlins
Location: Jupiter, Fla.
Roger Dean Stadium has a typically cozy Minor League layout, with the benefit of wide concourses. It's the centerpiece of a planned community -- and that sounds more soulless than it actually is. In reality, the neighborhood feel adds to the charm of the place, and it's conveniently located near two major highways. So that's all good.
The Astros and Nationals open a new two-team facility in nearby West Palm Beach a year from now. But one way or another, Palm Beach County deserves recognition as a great getaway locale. And who doesn't love the opportunity to tell their friends they're visiting Jupiter? Never gets old.
9. McKechnie Field
Location: Bradenton, Fla.
Babe Ruth played here. Ted Williams played here. Roberto Clemente played here. Andrew McCutchen plays here. Built in 1923 and renovated in 2013, McKechnie Field, much like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, marries baseball's prolific past with its pleasing present. It is the oldest active Spring Training facility, and I am one of those suckers for old things. You might not be. But you've got to love a place that didn't even have lights until 2008. And again, some recent updates have improved the overall fan experience.
8. Joker Marchant Stadium
Location: Lakeland, Fla.
They're in the midst of renovating Tigertown, so it's impossible to assess the finished product. Many of the changes are aimed at improving the Tigers' training facilities and the team's executive offices, but they're also making a more open concourse, putting a restaurant atop the left-field berm (a good add, given that concession lines are typically lengthy) and putting a scoreboard and tiki bar beyond the right-field wall. These are good things.
None of the upgrades, though, are expected to come at the expense of Tigertown's old-fashioned charm and the heavy military motif that harkens back to the site's past life as an Army pilot training ground. I don't know of many people who consider Polk County a vacation destination, and the Tigers' travel challenges will grow greater when the Astros leave Kissimmee next year. But you're pretty much equidistant (about a 40-minute drive) to Disney World and Tampa here, and the drive in either direction on Interstate 4 (or as I refer to it, the Central Florida International Speedway) is a great test of the reflexes.
7. Goodyear Ballpark
Teams: Reds and Indians
Location: Goodyear, Ariz.
I'm an admittedly biased Ohioan here, but I far prefer Goodyear Ballpark to Camelback Ranch, the Dodgers/White Sox facility that also opened west of Phoenix in 2009. Camelback is nice enough if you frequently travel with SPF 85 lotion (shade is in small supply there), but Goodyear Ballpark -- or, as I call it, "The Big Chipotle," given the design elements that unintentionally mirror those of the burrito chain -- is underrated.
Its primary drawback is the location in a not-fully-developed city a bit of a hike from Phoenix proper. But the stadium itself is solid. It's set below ground, a nice feature that simultaneously allows for clear sightlines of the nearby White Tank and Estrella mountain ranges, while preventing clear sightlines of the mostly empty desert patches surrounding the facility. The concourse runs 360 degrees around the facility, and there's a wiffle ball field for the kids. Bonus: On your way in or out, check out the airplane graveyard just outside the Indians' training facility, where you might find a Continental jet you flew from Newark to Houston in 2000.
6. JetBlue Park
Team: Red Sox
Location: Fort Myers, Fla.
It's Florida's new-fangled Fenway, with modern adaptations of the Green Monster and Pesky's Pole and whatnot. This is a wonderful facility, and I find the fan access on the backfields to be especially -- maybe even surprisingly -- great. For a lot of people, I'm sure this is a top-five facility.
I rate it just a little lower because in forcing the feel of Fenway, this park basically serves to remind you how special the real Fenway is. The neighborhood feel is non-existent here, because, you know, it's not in a neighborhood but on former swampland far from the beaten path.
5. Ed Smith Stadium
Location: Sarasota, Fla.
Famous for serving as the setting of Michael Jordan's memorable spring camp with the White Sox and later a home for the Reds, Ed Smith Stadium was nothing more than an austere mass of concrete until the O's arrived. Though Sarasota itself is as idyllic a spring setting as one can imagine -- assuming you're into the whole beaches/great restaurants/amazing views scene -- the ballpark was not worthy of this list until the $31.2 million renovation project that wrapped in 2011.
Now, the upgraded Ed Smith is a stunner, especially relative to what it once was. Expanded to a two-tier facility with more shade and less congestion, it does a decent job replicating the feel of Camden Yards' lower bowl (sans warehouse, of course). The concourse's inclusion of the bountiful bird logos employed by the O's over the years, as well as its offering of regional delicacies such as crabcake sandwiches and crab soup, are a nice touch, too. Really, if you haven't been here in a long while, Ed Smith -- the stadium, not the person -- is virtually unrecognizable from its past presentation.
4. Sloan Park
Location: Mesa, Ariz.
With a capacity of 15,000, the Cubs' still-new home (they moved here from Hohokam Park in 2014), located in a public park, is the most spacious of Spring Training settings. But, of course, the Cubs' ever-increasing popularity means all that seating real estate is ultimately accounted for. So yeah, you've got a fair amount of congestion here, and that's the cost of doing business when you pay a visit to one of baseball's most popular teams.
But this place was done right, from the left-field seating area that approximates the look of the Waveland and Sheffield rooftops to the replica of the Wrigley marquee, where you can have your name displayed (after waiting in line, naturally).
And there are food trucks. Yeah, in retrospect, I probably should have lead with that. This place has food trucks. You can beautifully blend the Cubs' Windy City roots with their Arizona escape and get a hot dog topped with guacamole if you want. America.
3. Scottsdale Stadium
Location: Scottsdale, Ariz.
What's that they say in the real estate world? Location, location, location! This location is unbeatable. You're three blocks from Old Town Scottsdale. (You're also right across the street from Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center, which I can personally attest is a great place to have your appendix removed during the Cactus League season.)
Honestly, there's nothing particularly special about the stadium itself. And having opened in 1992 (making it the second-oldest stadium in the Cactus League), it shows its age in some ways. But the place is always packed, and the pregame and postgame atmosphere in the nearby bars and restaurants provides a real sense of occasion.
It is categorically unfair that Giants players get to train in Scottsdale before the season and live in San Francisco during it. No wonder they tend to win World Series titles.
2. Bright House Field
Location: Clearwater, Fla.
Frenchy's Tiki Pavilion serves up cold adult beverages. The concessions serve up cheesesteaks and Tony Luke's signature roast pork sandwiches. Fans sun themselves on the large outfield berm. The Phillie Phanatic carefully crafts his in-season schtick.
Oh, and there's even some baseball going on, too.
We'll dock points for that crazy Clearwater traffic in March, but that's about it. Actually, if you could marry Bright House Field's atmosphere with Scottsdale Stadium's location, you'd have built the perfect spring beast.
Or maybe the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community already did that.
1. Salt River Fields at Talking Stick
Teams: D-backs and Rockies
Location: Scottsdale, Ariz.
Set apart from downtown Scottsdale on Native American land, Salt River Fields doesn't have Scottsdale Stadium's more urban appeal, but it's easily accessible and very near a mall complex and a resort and casino. There's ample parking, and it's a simple and straight shot from the parking lots to the D-backs' and Rockies' practice fields, if PFP and BP are your thing.
The stadium itself is pretty much perfect. There's a ton of outfield lawn seating, along with free suntan lotion dispenses. The lower bowl seats have great legroom and great sightlines. The concourse has open views of the playing field. The grandstand is shaded. The food options are bountiful. Each team has its own team shop, so D-backs fans don't have to rifle through Rockies apparel and vice versa. The cactus gardens and mountain vistas remind you you're in Arizona, on the off chance you forgot.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.