For the hardcore fan, there’s really never too much baseball in the spring, so attending a college baseball game should be on your agenda. There are a number of great programs in Arizona and Florida. They also play many games at night, which makes for some wonderful day/night doubleheaders for the true baseball fan. Consider a trip to see some college baseball during your spring-training trip.
College Baseball in Arizona
Arizona Sun Devils / Bobby Winkles Field at Packard Stadium
In Phoenix, the Arizona Sun Devils play at Bobby Winkles Field at Packard Stadium (201 S. Packard Dr., Tempe) on the ASU campus — for now. To get there, take the 202 Loop to the Scottsdale Road/Rural Road Exit and go south on Rural Road. Cross the river and take a right at the first stop light (East Rio Salado Parkway) and then hang a left of Packard Drive. The ballpark is on the right (west) wide of Rural Road and the left side of Packard Drive; it’s impossible to miss. Packard Stadium is a good facility, through a little spendy. ASU has a great program, however, so you’re assured of seeing at least one MLB prospect on any given date.
Why for now? The Sun Devils are slated to move to Phoenix Municipal Stadium once it is vacated by the Oakland Athletics. It’s a smart move: the Muni is a definite upgrade to Packard Stadium.
Arizona Wildcats / Hi Corbett Field
In Tucson, the University of Arizona Wildcats play at Hi Corbett Field (3400 E. Camino Campestre), the former home to pro baseball in the city. (It’s shown above when it served as spring home of the Colorado Rockies.) Opening in 1937 and renovated several times since, the ballpark is in an idyllic section of Tucson, on the fringes of a city park and golf course; you’re far away from the city when you’re watching the Wildcats in action, even though you’re physically in a very busy part of town. (You’ll discover that fact when you drive down Broadway to get to the ballpark.)
And it certainly is scenic. There’s a Southwestern motif to the ballpark, something that fits right into the Tucson ethos and a look that will be embraced with more renovations before the beginning of the 2012 collegiate season. Adobe has always been part of the spring vibe here (the original configuration had an adobe outfield wall where fans sat and watched the games for free). Add a clock tower to the mix, and Hi Corbett is surely one of the prettiest ballparks in college baseball. While there’s no spring training in Tuscon, we’d recommend the 120-mile drive to Tuscon for some college baseball if you have the time: Tucson in March is lovely and Hi Corbett Field has ended up being a center for college baseball.
College Baseball in Florida
Miami Hurricanes / Mark Light Baseball Stadium
In Florida, two of the major baseball institutions (Florida State University and the University of Florida) play far away from spring-training venues, but those in the south of the state can take in University of Miami games at Mark Light Baseball Stadium (6201 San Amaro Drive, Coral Gables). It’s not regarded as being a great facility, though it is in the midst of a multiyear renovation plan, and the Hurricanes are always entertaining.
Central Florida Knights / Jay Bergman Field
In Orlando, the University of Central Florida Knights play at on-campus Jay Bergman Field, a small (1,000 bleacher seats, 1,000 berm capacity) but nice and newer baseball ballpark. The Golden Knights draw well in a ballpark that’s been renovated a few times, so don’t be surprised if the seating is a little crammed for some games.
University of Tampa Spartans / University of Tampa Baseball Field
In Tampa, hitting a Tampa Spartans game is a real pleasure. The team plays at a small (600-capacity) ballpark on campus near the edge of downtown Tampa, which means the downtown skyline is beyond the outfield fence as you watch one of the best NCAA II programs out there. (Lou Piniella and Tino Martinez are both alums.) Most Spartans home games are at night, which means you can watch the Yankees, Blue Jays or Phillies in the day and catch a second game at night. If you go, head over early: the college campus is a former landmark hotel next to where a former spring-training site, Plant Field, was located. Reportedly Babe Ruth hit the longest home run in his illustrious career there; a plaque marks the site in front of the current business school. The ballpark is the corner of West Cass St. and North Boulevard west of downtown Tampa.
No college plays full-time at Fort Myers’ Terry Park, but you’re assured of seeing a college game during most days in the spring, as it’s a popular spot for traveling teams to get out the winter kinks. Terry Park was originally built for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s and later served as the spring home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals. It’s been rebuilt since those days and now is a comfortable place to watch smaller schools participate in tourneys. The complex is at 3410 Palm Beach Blvd. in Fort Myers.