Loran Smith: On Spring Training

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Loran Smith: On Spring Training

Loran Smith
Loran Smith

The Big-League teams are already playing games at the training camps in Florida and Arizona.   

Players essentially report one day and play a game the next.  In the old days, the routine was very different.  The ball club owned the facility in many cases, underwrote the costs and didn’t worry about the expenses all that much.  The ball players eased into their workout routine.  Now they report ready to compete. (Originally spring training was designed for players to dry out after a winter of hard drinking.)





With the escalating salaries that came about, bringing about millionaires out of half or more of each team, there was a move to make spring training a profit center.

The teams begin playing games right away and expect local municipalities to build, develop and maintain the facilities.  Leasing facilities for a modest fee seems to be the way to go these days but you will find a lot of dissenters who oppose the multi-million-dollar development costs of developing classy facilities for teams—especially for such a limited number of games for the month of March.

The preferred model at one time was the concept of Dodgertown, the classy spring training facility at Vero Beach, Florida.  By taking the pioneering step to integrate baseball, that meant that there was the challenge of finding accommodations for Brooklyn’s minority players such as Jackie Robinson.





Walter O’Malley, the Dodger owner, purchased a one-time military base on the edge of town which solved the problem.  At least for the most part.  The players roomed in the old barracks built for the servicemen.  The Dodgers took their meals (many restaurants in Vero would not serve black players) on the property and could use any bathroom on site.

They could even take a dip in the swimming pool.  There was also a golf course on the property and the black players were free to get up a game same as the rest of the team.

As the proliferation of black players took place with teams, Jim Crow laws were compromised across Florida.  Funny how economics can affect the way people think.

The preponderance of the baseball teams trained in Florida before integration emerged across the country.  The economy of the state was important, but more and more teams, as baseball expanded, relocated to Arizona for spring training, where there were not that many stringent Jim Crow laws to contend with.

Now, half of the teams train in Florida and half in Arizona.   The Arizona teams are all in the Phoenix area in ten different locations.  The camps in Florida are more spread out, but the one thing that you have to manage when you are in Arizona is the traffic. (However if you want to experience the ultimate in traffic jams, try crossing the causeway into Clearwater to see a game hosted by the Phillies and Blue Jays.)

The roads are good in Phoenix, especially the Interstates.  However, the traffic congestion is like trying to get through Atlanta at mid-morning.  It is bumper to bumper and being stuck in traffic anywhere becomes an abomination for anyone afflicted with any degree of impatience.

I don’t get to Phoenix that often but even when time allows for a spring training visit to Cactus League games, I still prefer Florida.  Naturally, it is closer and there is more familiarity with the people and the geography.

There are golf options galore in both states, but Florida’s courses are more appealing with palm trees and lakes than the rocks and cactus that prevail in Arizona.  

If you don’t play golf, you can get your fill of fishing options.  I remember snook fishing one morning with a former Georgia football player who lived at Ft. Myers Beach.  The snook were biting and they are a handful when you hook one.  Hooking an angry snook will give you the greatest of thrills.

After a nice outing on Greene Kelner’s boat, the next stop was for a Red Sox game.  How nice.

Ft. Myers can offer a baseball fan two great options today.  You have the Red Sox whose spring training ball park is identical to the dimensions of Fenway Park in Boston.

From Jet Blue Park to the Minnesota Twins spring training site, Hammond Stadium, is roughly six miles which is why American League fans flock to Ft. Myers for a couple of months of baseball, golf and fishing.  I want to do that someday.





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