It is time, people. Your copy of the Baseball Prospectus Annual has arrived. PECOTA projections are out. MLB Network is rolling. The fantasy baseball invites are starting to show up in your mailbox. And, best of all, players are reporting to camps across Florida and Arizona.
It's happening! The first Spring Training game is next week, when the Arizona Diamondbacks play the Grand Canyon Antelopes at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale. (Grand Canyon is a for-profit college that I wrote about here.) And then we are off. You will have made it. There will be games every day after that.
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 put together an itinerary for you to see all 23 Spring Training stadiums, 13 in the Grapefruit League in Florida and the 10 in the Cactus League in Arizona. (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.)
There is the added bonus of the World Baseball Classic this year, but we're not going to account for that in our Spring Training road trip. We recommend watching those games with a mai tai every time you reach a new city.
This is a schedule for you. Hop in the car and go. (And be sure to check out MLB.com's Spring Training guide for helpful resources and ticket packages.)
Spectrum Field, Clearwater, Fla.
Tampa Spartans at Philadelphia Phillies, 1:05 p.m. ET
It's a rematch of the famous Tampa upset of the Phillies two years ago, which I wrote about here. We're staring in Florida rather than Arizona, so you'll have to watch that Arizona-Grand Canyon game on your phone.
Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland, Fla.
Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers, 1:05 p.m.
It's a nice, simple hour-long drive for your first road trip, to see the Tigers' Spring Training home since 1966. It got a spiffy upgrade in the offseason, and a handy 20-year sponsorship deal with Publix.
McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla.
Baltimore Orioles at Pittsburgh Pirates, 1:05 p.m.
Maybe you can just follow the Orioles' team bus to the oldest Spring Training park of them all, home of the Pirates since 1969 but around since 1923.
Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte, Fla.
Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays, 1:05 p.m.
It's the stadium many consider the best baseball experience in Florida. Also, Michael Jordan played here, and Nolan Ryan retired here.
JetBlue Park at Fenway South, Fort Myers, Fla.
St. Louis Cardinals at Boston Red Sox, 1:05 p.m.
They've got the wall in left field, sort of, except there's a net and people sitting in the wall. Boston games are always tough tickets: This might be the most expensive ticket on the board. (Which means it's like 30 bucks. Spring Training is the best.)
George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, Fla.
Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees, 1:05 p.m.
Your longest drive so far, but Yankees legends are always showing up at these games, just milling around Florida, waiting for the season to start. I saw Derek Jeter hug Yogi Berra here once.
Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers, Fla.
Washington Nationals at Minnesota Twins, 1:05 p.m.
One of the best things about Spring Training is that even the longest drives are only about two and a half hours, tops. And once we get to Arizona, it's even easier.
The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach, Fla.
Washington Nationals at Houston Astros, 1 p.m. ET
From one coast to another, expect to get rained on a couple of times on the drive. This is the newest stadium, just opening this season, and it hosts both the Astros and the Nationals.
Champion Stadium, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Boston Red Sox at Atlanta Braves, 1:05 p.m. ET
This is in a Disney complex, so if you've got kids with you, you can probably just drop them off at some random corner somewhere pregame, Mickey Mouse will watch them for you, don't worry.
Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla.
Washington Nationals at St. Louis Cardinals, 1:05 p.m. ET
The Cardinals and Marlins share Roger Dean Stadium … which means you should just go ahead and make sure to catch the Cardinals. (Even if PECOTA disagrees!)
Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, Fla.
Philadelphia Phillies at Baltimore Orioles, 1:05 p.m.
Ed Smith was president of the Sarasota Sports Committee, by the way, and died in 2006. Better than Roger Dean, who just happens to own a car dealership nearby.
You get a day off today, and for a good reason: The World Baseball Classic begins at 5 a.m. ET. Israel vs. South Korea. You can go back to bed when it's over.
Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, Dunedin, Fla.
Canada at Toronto Blue Jays, 1:05 p.m.
Yep, the World Baseball Classic teams are playing some practice games, so at last, Toronto plays Canada. If they Blue Jays win, I think they get to secede.
Tradition Field, Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Boston Red Sox at New York Mets, 1:10 p.m. ET
Your final Florida stop is a replay of the 1986 World Series. Remind every Boston fan you see of this, they love it.
Fly yourself to Arizona. It's time for the Cactus League.
Tempe Diablo Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 3:10 p.m. ET
Your first game is just 2 1/2 miles from the airport. You can watch Mike Trout make one at-bat, maybe. The first USA World Baseball Classic game starts right around the time this game will be ending.
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale, Ariz.
San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks, 3:10 p.m. ET
See how close everything is in Arizona? Considering the weather problems Florida sometimes has, it's a measure of tradition's hold over baseball that not all teams have Spring Training in Arizona.
Hohokam Stadium, Mesa, Ariz.
Chicago Cubs at Oakland A's, 4:05 p.m. ET
It's your first chance to see the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs, and nope, that still doesn't sound right.
Maryvale Baseball Park, Phoenix, Ariz.
Seattle Mariners at Milwaukee Brewers, 4:05 p.m. ET
This place is owned and operated by the Phoenix Parks & Recreation Department, and you know that that means.
Sir Ron Swanson dropping truth bombs pic.twitter.com/xqxkOkmdf3- Parks & Recreation (@ParksPics) February 3, 2017
Sloan Park, Mesa, Ariz.
Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs, 4:05 p.m. ET
It is possible you will be able to buy some Cubs World Series merchandise here, one suspects.
Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at San Francisco Giants, 4:05 p.m. ET
This is the second-oldest Cactus League Stadium. It was built in 1992. It's like Atlanta out there.
Surprise Stadium, Surprise, Ariz.
Seattle Mariners at Kansas City Royals, 4:05 p.m. ET
This is the longest Cactus League drive you'll have. Forty-five minutes.
Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria, Ariz.
Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres, 10:10 p.m. ET
Night game! You've got to have at least one night game in Arizona.
Camelback Ranch, Glendale, Ariz.
Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago White Sox, 4:05 p.m. ET
You only have one more game after this one. But it's gonna line up just perfect.
Goodyear Ballpark, Goodyear, Ariz.
Arizona Diamondbacks at Cleveland Indians, 4:10 p.m. ET
There you go. You've hit all of them. Got any miles left in your car? Because if you get up first thing the morning of March 20 and drive to Los Angeles …
You can make it to the first game of the World Baseball Classic championship round at Dodger Stadium. You get have your Spring Training and your World Baseball Classic. This is truly the best of all possible planets.