If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good you’re interested in attending spring training in 2016. Good for you! Our job is to help guide you through the experience of planning your trip, whether it be a weekend in Phoenix or a week in Tampa Bay.
As you know from looking through the schedule pages, there are no schedules yet released. Major League Baseball does not make it easy for you to schedule your spring-training vacation. Most schedules aren’t released until after the World Series (the Braves and Brewers tend to release early, however), and an official schedule doesn’t appear until early January.
But we do know when 2016 spring training games begin and end. Though 2016 Major League Baseball schedules have not been released, 2016 Minor League Baseball schedules have been released, and the MiLB season opens April 8. Working backwards, we then know the MLB schedule will begin April 3 with the now-traditional Sunday night game, and spring training games will end on the weekend of April 2-3. Some teams will schedule home exhibitions on April 1-2 — the Phillies traditionally host games those two days, while the Toronto Blue Jays have hosted two games that weekend in Montreal – while others will use the occasion for one more camp day on April 2.
Working backwards from that end date, we can deduce spring training games will begin on February 29 (yes, 2016 is a leap year), with players reporting a two-to-three weeks before that.
In spring training, you can pick a series of three days and be confident your team will be playing at least one game at home: the schedule is set up to minimize the rigors of travel, so there aren’t many road trips per se. And if a team’s not at home in that three-day stretch, they don’t be too far from home. We know there are no overnight trips in the Cactus League, and there are very few in the Grapefruit League: the Braves will play many games with the Astros, Tigers and Nationals; the Cardinals and Marlins will be tired of each other by the end of spring training; and so on.
When Should You Go?
There are three ways to approach a visit to spring training: games, workouts, or both.
There are advantages to each. Players report to spring training around February 10-12 (think Valentine’s Day), with pitchers and catchers reporting first. In the old days, that first reporting day was a big deal: players were re-entering the baseball world from their offseason jobs, and they were subject to a physical and a weigh-in, as well as a general evaluation by team officials. With players mostly out of touch between November and February, there were always some surprises on reporting day.
For today’s baseball player, the game is a full-time job. Virtually every player trains in the offseason or plays winter ball, and organizations keep fairly close tabs on most players, especially the well-paid prospects and superstars. There are very few surprises come that first reporting date.
Many fans like to show up for those first practices, which are open to the public. For an outsider, they can be viewed as dull, but for the real fan, they’re great. Getting that first glimpse of your favorite player in action is a core part of the spring-training experience, and in recent years teams have upgraded facilities to make the experience more comfortable and memorable. Most practice areas are now set up for fan comfort, with shaded seating areas and bleachers. The advantage: players tend to be more accessible at those initial workouts and willing to sign autographs after practice. There’s no uniform MLB practice schedule, and every team sets its own start time and location. We list them all in our spring-training books.
Spring training is broken down into two periods: before games begin and during the games, with different schedules for both. When training starts teams are focused on morning and early-afternoon workouts. When games start, the workouts are scaled back. Most teams will gather in the morning for workouts (mostly minor leaguers), but the real focus is the afternoon game. You can show up early and see whom you can catch at the morning workout. (Conversely, if a team is on the road, the regulars not scheduled for the trip will work out under fairly normal circumstances.)
So why go to practices? Eagerness to begin the season. Enthusiasm for the upcoming campaign. Desire to snare an autograph. To get close to your favorite player.
When Games Start
Though you’ll find plenty of fans milling around camp after players report, the real action starts when games begin at the end of February and early March. This, for most fans, is the real beginning of spring training. And although the starting lineups during those first few weeks of games will bear little resemblance to the Opening Day lineup, enough stars will be present to make those games worthwhile. In general, you’ll need a long lineup card to keep track of all the players shuttling on and off the field for those games: pitchers are usually restricted by pitch and inning counts; starters are limited to just three or so innings on the field, and by the eighth inning you’ll be watching mostly players already ticketed for time at the Triple-A or Double-A levels.
One more thing to note when scheduling your time: most spring-training games are played in the afternoon. Some teams will schedule no night games; others, like the Atlanta Braves or Minnesota Twins, will schedule several. It is possible, although sometimes difficult, to put together a spring-training doubleheader. For instance, the New York Yankees play several night games, and given that several teams train in the greater Tampa Bay area – Philadelphia, Detroit, Toronto, Pittsburgh – you could hit an afternoon game and then head to Steinbrenner Field for the nightcap. Similarly, with three teams training in the Fort Myers area and two of them — Boston and Minnesota — usually scheduling several night games, you could include the Tampa Bay Rays in the mix and schedule accordingly. Throw in a college game in Tampa or Orlando and you could schedule a spring trip with daily doubleheaders.