My trip last week to Arizona allowed me to get a first hand view of the Cactus League for the first time. I have made a couple of trips to Florida to watch the Twins play in the Grapefruit League so it was nice to see how some of the other teams spend their time during spring training.
I went into my trip to the Valley of the Sun with the mindset that the Cactus League and Grapefruit League would be very similar but that opinion would change during my week in the Phoenix area. I thought it would just be nice to see some baseball in great weather before the season begins in a couple of week but I was very impressed by the Cactus League. There are plenty of difference between the Grapefruit League in Florida and the action of the Cactus League in Arizona and I think the Grapefruit League could improve their product by following the model of the Cactus League.
Here is a rundown of some of the areas that I feel the Grapefruit League could improve on that the Cactus League already does well.
1. Most complexes have two teams training in them: If you are only a fan of one specific team, this might not be that big of deal to you. But for fans who are there because they love baseball, there is a great opportunity to see multiple team's practice in one day. You can start your day watching the young prospects of the Royals on a back field in Surprise and later in the morning you can watch the powerhouse Rangers without having to get into your car.
The Rangers and Royals share a facility and the other facilities with teamed up franchises are the Mariners and Padres, the Indians and the Reds, and the Diamondbacks and the Rockies. On my trips to Florida, I loved going to watch the Twins and their minor league affiliates at their practice facility. But if there had been another team training at the Lee County Sports Complex, I probably would have ventured over to get a glimpse of another big league squad.
2. Close proximity between every team: This was fantastic for being able to check out multiple teams in one trip to Arizona. All of the team's are only a short car ride away and most on located very close to major highways in the Phoenix metro area. This means there are shorter rides for fans that want to go to different stadiums to see their team play. During the Royals versus Giants game that I attended, there was a sea of orange that took over Surprise Stadium to see the Giants play. While the Giants play on the complete opposite side of Phoenix, it was still not enough to keep their fans locked down to one location.
The close proximity between the complexes also means the players can avoid long bus rides that plague the Grapefruit League. The teams are too far apart in Florida and for some fans it is too long of a trip to travel across the state to see their favorite team play. It ties the fans down to one area and it keeps them from seeing other facilities in Florida.
3. Improving the stadium experience for fans: This continues to improve in the Grapefruit League with teams adding to their stadiums or even moving to new facilities like the Red Sox. In Arizona it was great to be able to walk around the stadiums and still have a sight line to the field. This made it easy to run and get something to eat or drink and you could keep an eye on the game. The layout of the stadium also made it easier to explore the facility before the game began.
Out of the stadiums I saw in Arizona many followed the same format for their outfield seating area. There was a grass hill that covered most of the outfield and this was a general admission area for fans attending the contest. People coming in to watch the game could throw down a blanket, play catch, or just enjoy the sun in the grass. So far this spring, I have heard multiple interviews with Dave St. Peter where he has mentioned the Twins adding on to their facility to include some outfield seating. This could be a step in the right direction for the Twins.
The overall experience of going to watch spring training in Florida or Arizona is something a baseball fan will never forget. There is an excitement that fills the air at the beginning of a new year. There is also the ability to get up close and personal with many players for every team. Spring training is great in the Grapefruit League but a few tweaks here and there could make it even better.