For simulation game players, baseball never ends. At any point you can break out your at-home game or join the many people online for head-to-head or league play.
However, every baseball fan gets a special feeling in March when teams report to the Grapefruit League in Florida or the Cactus League in Arizona for spring training baseball.
While teams use spring training to evaluate some players and get others ready for the regular season, it still has the barnstorming element from yesteryear. Fans pour into Florida and Arizona for a chance to see star players up close in small stadiums.
Of course, spring training also provides plenty of stories. Players are looser, the final score doesn’t matter and everyone is enjoying the sunshine. Here are some spring training facts and stories about spring training through the years.
Spring Training Facts: Barnstorming Start
Spring training started back in the late 19th century not so much as a way to train players, but to show off the game on barnstorming tours in the South. Some point to games held in New Orleans between the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings in 1870 as the beginning of spring training. Others say it truly started in 1888, when Red Stockings manager Gus Schmeltz talked owner Aaron Stern into spring training – part of the deal involved the players splitting the costs. Back then, “spring training” meant playing games around the South during the day and traveling at night. By 1910, however, teams had established spring training sites.
The Smiling Calendar
The Kansas City Royals used to train in Baseball City, Florida before moving out to Arizona. At one point they had manager Tony Muser, who, let’s just say, was not always in a very good mood. Players ended up making a Smiling Tony Muser calendar in 2002 and putting a smiley face on any day they actually saw him smile, according to long-time Royals beat writer Joe Posnanski. Muser ended up getting fired just 23 games into the season.
Get a Tan
Legendary Manager Whitey Ford once said of spring training: “The way to make coaches think you are in shape in the spring is to get a tan.”
Ferrell Takes the Field
In 2015, actor/comedian Will Ferrell went to spring training in Arizona, playing 10 different positions for 10 teams over the course of five games. His spring training journey became an Internet sensation, and Ferrell managed to raise $1 million for charities.
Ferrell Takes the Field (as the event was called) also produced some classic moments – and included Ferrell actually getting out the one batter he faced while pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Stung By a Scorpion
Milwaukee Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin was having dinner with his wife in 2013 in Arizona when she noticed a bug on the floor. Melvin rushed to pick it up, got bit on the finger and within minutes started feeling numbness spread up his arm. Turned out he had been bitten by a scorpion. He spent several hours in the emergency room and said next time he saw a bug in Arizona, he’d just ask his wife to kill it with her shoe.
Catcher and professional-level self-deprecator Bob Uecker once said this: “The highlight of my career? In ’67 with St. Louis, I walked with the bases loaded to drive in the winning run in an intra-squad in spring training.” Bob Uecker is a national treasure. By the way, he actually hit a home run off Sandy Koufax in the regular season. He joked that home run should keep Koufax out of the Hall of Fame.
Spring training is a wonderful annual tradition, especially if you live in a northern city and get to spend a month in the shirt-sleeve weather in Florida and Arizona. If you get a chance, make a trip and catch a game, you won’t regret it.
In the meantime, we can all gear up from the new season which is, thankfully, almost here.