Baseballville: Spring Training as a fan!


By: Morgan Frazier-March 13, 2008

Baseball is all around. High Schools have begun their seasons, colleges are in full swing, and Professional baseball teams are in Spring Training. I was fortunate enough to go to spring training this past weekend in Arizona. This trip was not intended to be all about baseball but after the first day, it quickly turned into a baseball bonanza!

We were in the Phoenix, Arizona area, which plays host to 11 major league affiliates, this is the place to be,during this time of year. The weather is great, the atmosphere of fans, communities and baseball people is even better. For those that are not able to actually be on the fields playing during this special time of year, this is the next best thing. 

p30605451.jpgI was able to go and spend a few days with the Chicago Cubs and there minor league teams. However, there are several venues to explore in Arizona that are a quick drive away and give the same results. I wanted to see the Cubs work out more because of the players that were drafted from this area. It is good to recognize individuals especially the minor league players. Such players like Blake Lalli, a good friend (Gardner-Webb University), Marquez Smith, Kris Harvey, Tyler Colvin (Clemson University), Mitch Atkins from Greensboro, North Carolina, Chris Walker, (Georgia Southern University).  This is just to name a few that I knew from either playing against or seeing in a college or high school uniform, I am sure there are more.

Also, the Chicago Cubs host a group of coaches that are unprecedented, such figures as Ryne Sandberg, Jody Davis, Gerald Perry, Alan Trammell and Lou Piniella are some I grew up watching and am more familiar with. Although, there are plenty of personalities walking around that you may never recognize without a hat on, I will explain further.

I have explained the experience many times like this. If you like going to a high school game and being really close to the field and seeing players at a arms-length distance, without paying to see them and actually being able to talk with players without having to buy a ticket or a parking pass, with little or no security, then you probably should make a trip. I do not want to mislead you, there are seldom “big leaguers” just walking around the facilities, you may catch one in a private lot here and there but they generally work out at odd times and are not on the minor league schedule, and while the minor league squads are practicing the major league teams are probably playing.

p30605411.jpgTraining facilities are basically set up like glorified youth showcase fields, with four or so fields, there are a huge 10-12 rubber bullpen areas, indoor cages, locker rooms, sports medicine area and parking lots. If you think that you would not be able to see any players or have the ability to talk with them, you are wrong. When players come out of the locker room there are some slight restrictions, rightfully so, because you must remember these guys are working and much of there career could depend on how they perform during this time. However, past that small restriction area, it is open gates galore. I honestly did not see one locked gate and only a few signs saying “Cubs Personnel Only.”

During workouts there are some breaks for the players, it is at this time they are able to chat with fans, sign autographs and give out souvenirs. This is the best part of the experience getting to see players through the chain link, and not from binoculars or from a couch.

I do have a few suggestions for you when you do go to visit a Spring Training site: Do your research. Know the parking of each place, do not think you will be able to park in big parking decks, where I was it was only residential homes charging to park in their yards. You should be able to know exactly where you want to go and who you want to see, with which team. I suggest pick up a magazine that has the Top Prospects list or a website that might help you familiarize yourself with all the players. 

Do not think you will go down there and slide by some people and scatter some facts around like you do during football season, these fans take it quite serious and they will sniff you out. Do not wear team gear if it is not the team you are going to see. If you make several stops wear something neutral, again fans that have followed teams their entire life do not take kindly to seeing other logos on their territory. Act like you have a clue about baseball, if you see guys running and working out do not ask for an autograph, just calmly wait until they are done, they are more than happy to sign. Do not actually step on the field where players are working out, if you are not a player do not try to act like one.

Although, believe me, there was a thin line of an opportunity that I thought a ground ball would have been nice and that just maybe I could get a uniform! I think the Arizona sun got the best of me for that hour! 

Do not ask players questions that make them feel uncomfortable, “Have you gained weight?” “Have you lost a step?” “How hard do you throw?” “Why are you here?” Show up early and do not leave if you want a true feel of what these aspiring major leaguers do every day during spring training.

It may not be the glitz and glamour you think. Do not think the minor league players stay in lavish hotels and great accommodations, as I found most of the players stay in hotels that I would be hesitant to stay in. Most “big leaguers” and top round choices may have areas different in which they reside but the bulk of the organization stay in modest accommodations areas including the coaches.

My itinerary for the days I was there:

Wake up                6:30

To the Ballpark        7:30

Watch warm-ups     8:00

Pitchers PFP           9:00

Talk to Players        9:30-9:40

Watched all fields    10:00

Lunch                    12:00

Big League Game      1:00

Enjoy Arizona           4:00

After spending most of the mornings with the minor leaguers, I was able to attended two big league games. This was a great chance to see Major League players on their stage.  I have only attended a few big league games in my life and this is something I did not take lightly. However, the hand of fate would slap me pretty hard when we could not find a parking place the first day, hence the suggestion to know the parking situation. We looked for thirty minutes and then decided to park back at the minor league facility, about four blocks away. Then the hand of fate picked me back up as I called a friend that plays in the organization and was able to ride to the game with a few high draft picks that had a major league parking sticker, something that is not the norm by any means. By cruising in the players lot we were met with few questions, it is unbelievable the amount of recognition that players get in this atmosphere. 

After a stroll through the players lot and to seats that were located directly behind home plate, I felt like I had finally arrived to the place where it was all worth it, only to see that it was the sixth inning and some of the main players were already out of the game. In many spring training games the roster players that we see everyday on TV will only play minimal innings as there are no real champions, and games can end in tie. There are such things as split squads where, for example, two Cubs teams are playing that day, one in the home park and one in an off location. 

The second day I attended another game but did not look for a parking spot, we went right to the minor league parking lot and what do you know, the same friend was driving by and picked us up again with a parking sticker in hand. Again this is not something that happens often, we just happened to be in the right spot at the right time! This time our seats were not as good, or so we thought. We were placed in the rightfield bleachers. Metal hot bleachers, not ideal, in the Arizona sun. But what was ideal is we could see more of the game and more of the people interacting with other people. You often forget you are watching a Major League game with Major League players. While all around you are fans, not just for the teams that are playing but fans from everywhere, supporting baseball. All ages are welcomed; newborns to elderly, there are accommodations everywhere, changing tables to handicap ramps. These were the best seats ever.

Since most of the locker rooms are very accessible, it is easy to catch players on their walk out to the cars. There is security but it seems to be an understanding between players and fans that they are accessible, if you follow the rules. There are no secret ways out of the park, players get in there car like everyone else and take the same route to leave just like any one else. While some of the cars are more expensive and some may have drivers, but for the most part after the money they become us, the fans.

If you remember my advice on knowing the faces of the players so you may be able to recognize them in a crowd, here is why.  After the second game I wanted to make a quick stop by the gift shop and visit the free giveaway places as they do give away neat stuff. Now the prices are big league and I would suggest to only get something that is representative of going to Spring Training as you should be able to purchase anything else online. As I was done shopping and getting some things, I looked over and there sat Jon Lieber and his new baby. This would not be significant if he had not just pitched six innings of shutout baseball and is fighting for a position in the starting rotation for the Big Squad, you know the one that plays at Wrigley Field. The funny thing is no one seemed to pay him any attention. It was awesome, he was just there and not the least bit worried about anything except getting his wife out of the gift shop, which is ironic in its own. As we proceeded to our car and began to drive we saw Lieber walking with a crowd of people to his car, but they had no clue that he was Jon Lieber, I could not get it. Most fans see you with a hat on and for a pitcher only a few times a week, so going unnoticed may be fairly simple. p30705841.jpgIt was a nice treat from the thoughts that all athletes are untouchable and are given titles that express that greatness. Of course they are blessed with special gifts that allow them to perform, but there is nothing better than a humble player that is willing to talk and interact with fans, even if they drive a black, 2008 Lamborghini (pictured), you know who you are Carlos Zambrano!      

So if you have never been to any type of spring training, go. If your boss will not let you off then invite him or her to go, they will enjoy it. If you are not a baseball fan, you should go as it is set up like an event and not a ball game. Remember to do your homework, if you know a player personally, ask for help on where to go and other stuff to do, as most days are over by 5:00. You will have some free time and Arizona hosts a great deal of vacation areas.

There is plenty of great dining and sites to see. But when you see signs to “BASEBALLVILLE” you will soon see why thousands of fans make the trip every year to start the season.

About the author: Morgan Frazier played at Western Carolina and Elon University. After his playing days were over, the Asheboro, NC coached at Elon, UNC Wilmington and Gardner-Webb. Frazier presently assists Diamond Prospects as our Marketing Director.