VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – Is big league spring training best held in arid Arizona or humid Florida?
Well, MAS once saw an Arizona postcard that pretty much sums up the difference between that state and Florida.
The card pictures two skeletons relaxing on beach chairs in the desert under a blazing ‘Zona sun.
One skeleton, in response to a “Sure is hot today” comment from his pal, counters: “Yeah, but it’s a dry heat”.
Like no humidity is really a factor when temps are approaching a scorching 35 C.
You don’t see postcards like that coming out of “Floor’da”, as long-time residents pronounce it.
In Florida, you can usually count on a balmy breeze off the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico to create comfortable conditions at the coastal MLB training sites in the state.
MAS checked, and the last time a Pacific Ocean wind wafted through the Greater Phoenix area (where most of the Arizona camps are held) was: NEVER!
And did MAS mention the occasional afternoon rain shower that further cools things off and results in greenery everywhere?
(There’s a reason, after all, why palm and citrus trees grow in Florida and cacti are the only visible plant growth in much of the Grand Canyon State.)
So, sorry Arizona, but this is why Florida is preferable as an MLB spring training site — for both players and fans alike.
As a Vero Beach resident, MAS admits to being prejudiced but he’ll take the sometimes wet and muggy Sunshine State over your sun-parched state any day when it comes to February workouts and March exhibition contests.
A bit of sunscreen — and not blast furnace gear — is all you need here to enjoy America’s favorite annual rite of spring not involving birds and bees.
Yet, somehow — for proximity reasons, one suspects — a large number of big league clubs still choose the habitat of gila monsters over the land of orange groves as their preseason home.
In the old days of 16 big league outfits (most located east of the Mississippi River), only the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs used to train in Arizona.
Now that MLB has expanded to 30 franchises, however, all but one of the western-most teams have opted for the shorter haul to the Southwest and not the longer trek to America’s southeastern-most peninsula.
Of the westerners, only Houston, which calls Kissimmee — in Central Florida — their spring base, now comes eastward.
Thus, exactly half of MLB franchises — 15 — presently carry out spring training in central Arizona, including the Indians and Cubs still, Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco, the two Los Angeles teams, Colorado, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Texas, Oakland, Cincinnati (which, for some inexplicable reason, switched from Tampa — egad!) and, of course, Arizona.
Those ballclubs make up the informal and aptly named “Cactus League” and engage in almost-daily exhibition contests in late February and March.
The Florida fifteen comprise and participate in the “Grapefruit League” (which would YOU rather munch on?).
There are usually no spring meetings between teams in those two loops.
Of the Florida snowbird outfits, eight take up residence on the Gulf Coast: Toronto, Philadelphia, the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Boston.
On the Atlantic Ocean side are Washington, the New York Mets, St. Louis and Miami.
Inland Florida clubs are Atlanta, Houston and Detroit. These three teams mostly visit their Atlantic Coast brethren.
The only bad thing about this bicoastal arrangement is that teams from the Gulf side rarely travel to the Atlantic venues and vice versa.
By staying on their side of the state, ball clubs only have to make their pampered charges “endure” a one or two-hour bus ride to away games — instead of a three- or four-hour trek.
Only occasionally will a ball club traverse “Alligator Alley” — a main highway connecting the Florida coasts.
Therein lies the only advantage an Arizona-based team and its fans possess: Because most of the club sites there are close-by each other, there is more variety of competition.
MAS does most of his spring interviews at the Mets’ spring base in St. Lucie, 40 minutes down the Atlantic coast from Vero.
Alas, MAS must make do with a steady diet of mostly the Marlins, Cards, Tigers, Nats, Astros and Braves — save for the occasional Gulf Coast trip.
Still, if you can stand the heat, there’s a lot to like about spring training in America’s kitchen, Arizona, and, of course, here in balmy Florida, where the humidity doesn’t really kick in until the summer months — like it does almost everywhere else in the U.S.
For starters, there are the cozy, fan-friendly ballparks. You can sit much closer to the action than you usually can at the teams’ hometown stadia — and at a much cheaper cost.
Of course, you’ll see a lot of guys wearing numbers in the 60s and 70s as teams give younger prospects a look-see before farming them out.
These days stars and regulars are usually yanked around mid-game — if they appear at all — to save them for the 162-game regular season grind and prevent injuries.
The Mets, for example, are resting All-Star third sacker David Wright almost entirely in hopes he can avoid getting dinged up as he has the past two springs.
More intimate ballparks also mean fans have greater pre-game access to the players for autographs and can often chat them up.
During spring training, the MLBers are much more amenable to interaction. They’re happy to be back at “work” and the pressures of the regular season have yet to set in.
But remember, there’s less chance of a ballplayer in Florida blowing off fans after saying to himself, “Geez, it’s hot as blazes out here — I’m headin’ for some clubhouse air con.”
Take that, humidity-free Arizona.
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