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Monday, April 15, 2024

A love letter to spring training

Why Major League Baseball’s preseason is a baseball fan’s paradise 

 

By CLAIRE SCHAD — cfschad@ucdavis.edu 

 

Most years, in October, shortly after the San Francisco Giants finish their season, I receive a message from my dad. It usually reads something along the lines of “130 days until pitchers and catchers report” or “130 days until spring training.” For my baseball-loving family, spring training marks the end of a dark and damp winter, but most importantly, it signals the beginning of a new major league baseball season. 

Each February, thousands of professional baseball players and coaches converge in Arizona for spring training. The athletes typically spend about two months preparing for the upcoming season, with pitchers and catchers reporting a couple of weeks early — hence my dad’s comment. While at camp, the players participate in workouts, attend meetings and face-off against other teams.    

My love for spring training started when I was 13: my younger brother and I had woken up Christmas morning to two large but suspiciously light boxes covered in red and green wrapping paper, addressed to each of us. After my parents told us that we must each open these specific boxes at the same time, we quickly tore off the paper and found a stack of about 10 pages of paper stapled together. Atop the front page were the words, “You’re going to spring training!” We were ecstatic, quickly flipping through the pages detailing our trip scheduled for that March.

The months between Christmas and March were long and many of the days cold and rainy, but my brother and I were counting down the days until we left for our vacation. When the day finally came, we all loaded into the car and started the 12-hour drive to Phoenix, Arizona. 

Once we arrived, I knew that this vacation would soon be one of my favorites. Each day was filled with baseball: from the early mornings to the late evenings, we were at the ballpark in some capacity. As a baseball fanatic, this felt like heaven. 

So what makes spring training so special, you may ask? Firstly, the energy is different — you can feel the excitement in the air. Each team gets a fresh start, and everyone recognizes this gift. No matter whether your team is coming off a World Series win or a last-place season, there is a sense of hope for what is to come. This energy is palpable as soon as you step foot in the stadium; it radiates from the fans and players alike. This shared sense of hope is what makes the environment so special. 

Additionally, spring training allows fans to see major league stars up close and personal. The Arizona stadiums are smaller, about a quarter of the size of major league ballparks, ensuring close proximity to the action. Many teams also hold open workouts, giving fans an even closer look into the training process at their state-of-the-art training facilities. Being in such close proximity to my favorite players humanized them and made me even more excited about the upcoming season. 

Another aspect of spring training that I fell in love with was the relaxed environment, far different from a high-stakes regular season game. While many minor leaguers spend the spring fighting for a spot on the major league roster, veteran players are often relaxed and more engaged with their fans. I remember my brother and I spending hours standing on the edge of the field anxiously anticipating the next autograph we would receive. 

In a further dedication to a top-tier fan experience, after each spring training game, most teams allow fans to wait outside the clubhouse to talk with players and coaches as they are leaving. One afternoon, after watching the Giants play at Scottsdale Stadium, my family and I stuck around after the game with hopes of getting an autograph or two. After about an hour, my parents were ready to leave but my brother and I were determined to wait a bit longer. Sure enough, not even minutes later, World Series-winning shortstop Brandon Crawford comes out and invites my brother and I, along with a few younger fans, into the clubhouse to meet him and sign autographs. As a lifelong Giants fan, this quickly became one of my favorite memories.

Since 2015, I have gone back to spring training a few times, and each time I fall more and more in love with it. From the long drive through the desert with my family to the days that we spent basking in the warm Arizona sun at the ballpark, I have created memories that I will cherish forever. 

 

Written by: Claire Schad — cfschad@ucdavis.edu 

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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