Spring Training Begins in Kissimmee

Spring Training began in Kissimmee for the Houston Astros this week as they opened their campaign with a 3-0 loss against the Atlanta Braves last Tuesday.

Baseball’s spring training was almost a secret once upon a time as players prepared for the regular season in privacy but all that has changed now that the event has blossomed into a tourist attraction. 30 teams pretty much evenly split between Florida (the Grapefruit League) and Arizona (the Cactus League), gear up for the main season by taking time away from their regular home base to enjoy a change of scenery and usually a lot better weather!

Here in Florida we are blessed with clusters of clubs who compete on both coasts while a handful come to Central Florida to tune up. The Gulf Coast configuration stretches from Dunedin (Blue Jays) south to Clearwater (Phillies), Tampa (Yankees), Bradenton (Pirates), Sarasota (Orioles), Port Charlotte (Rays), and Fort Myers, where the Red Sox and Twins train in separate ballparks.

On the Atlantic side, north to south, are spring training camps in Viera (Nationals), Port St. Lucie (Mets), and Jupiter (Cards and Marlins), while Central Florida’s I-4 corridor, around Orlando, includes the Astros (in nearby Kissimmee), the Tigers in Lakeland and at Disney, the Atlanta Braves train at Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports. A full list of fixtures can be found here.

How Spring Training Really Works

While veteran players view spring training as a time to tune-up, younger players see it as audition time. They have to put up or shut up, convincing managers to keep them in mind as they pare rosters to the maximum 25 players by Opening Day on March 31.

A few days after pitchers and catchers report (usually in mid- to late-February) along with injured position players, full squads begin workouts. In most camps, that means morning calisthenics, clinics in fundamentals, and inter squad games. Most workouts of this nature are free to watch and are far less crowded than proper games and allows autograph hounds the best access to players that they can ever have.

For autograph hunters, photographers, and sun worshipers alike, exhibition season is just that: an exhibition. Games don’t count, there’s no pressure on players or managers, and the Grapefruit or Cactus League won-lost records are printed in newspapers without any recognition of league affiliation. If games go past the regulation nine innings, they often end in ties because visiting teams just don’t have enough pitchers!

In fact, visiting teams almost never bring a full slate of stars. Major League Baseball asks that they bring at least three, since fans buying tickets and want to see big-leaguers instead of bush-leaguers, but that rule is rarely enforced.

Nigel Worrall & Cal Ripken Jnr.

Some players will go out of their way to be accommodating to autograph requests though and when Cal Ripken, Jr. was an active player, he once signed autographs for 90 minutes after a game at West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium was rained out while an Orioles teammate held an umbrella over his head to keep the autographs from smudging!

Most players will happily pose for pictures, especially before or after workouts. On the other hand, almost all will refuse to sign while eating, playing golf when they’re off duty, or otherwise enjoying their time away from the ballpark and fans who perch themselves at the players’ parking lot will generally find autographs easier to acquire when players arrive than when they leave.

It’s a great time to visit Florida and what could be better than taking in a ball game at drastically reduced prices while sun tanning yourself?

Here’s some pictures and video I took from a recent tour of Osceola County Stadium at Osceola Heritage Park:

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