It's been a long, baseball-less winter.
One hundred and seven long days and nights since Game Seven of the 2011 World Series. We've barely survived, subsisting on the Prince Fielder soap opera, hand wringing over the Red Sox' playing 2012 without a shortstop, and multiple incarnations of the Yoenis Cespedes promotional video.
That is, unless you followed my advice in The Ultimate Off-Season Survival Guide. You remember. I gave you lots of ideas for baseball-related activities during the off-season. Baseball books. Baseball movies. Baseball museums. And information on how to plan for spring training.
Well, did you plan? Because spring training is here.
That's right. Seattle Mariners' pitchers and catchers reported to camp yesterday. Another nine teams have their battery-mates reporting on February 19. By February 26, full squads for all thirty teams will be in camp, getting ready for the 2012 season. Here's the full schedule of report dates.
Exciting, isn't it? It's what you've been waiting for. It's why you clicked on this over and over again, all through the winter. Because spring training means fastballs and home runs and stolen bases and plays at the plate.
Well, not quite. Not for the first few weeks, anyway.
Workouts and Drills, Lots of Drills
Spring training games between major league teams don't start until March 3. So if you show up to a spring training facility in Arizona or Florida in the next few weeks, you're likely to see a lot of this:
Well, it will look something like what you see in the videos, sans the pump-up music and Jeremy Giambi.
There will be stretching and drills and PFP. That's bench coach lingo for pitchers fielding practice. There will be a lot of pitchers fielding practice.
Spring Training Rosters: Who Are These Guys?
There will be plenty of players at spring training that you've never heard of. Sure, you know the guys on the 25-man roster, probably the 40-man roster, too. But what of those non-roster invitees?
Or you're a Diamondbacks fan. And you spend the day at beautiful Salt River Fields. You hear someone shout "Adam Eaton" and you start to shiver, thinking the D'backs invited this guy to spring camp. But if you're prepared, you'll realize it's this Adam Eaton, the young outfielder with the .956 OPS in the minors.
Every team has a list of its non-roster invitees on its official mlb.com site. Go to your team's site and click on "Rosters" along the top navigation bar. Get the list for your team and see what Minor League Ball's John Sickels and FanGraphs' Marc Hulet have to say about the prospects.
Major League Baseball Games!
Spring training games kick off in Florida's Grapefruit League on March 3. Fifteen teams have their spring training homes in the Sunshine State: Braves, Orioles, Red Sox, Tigers, Astros, Marlins, Twins, Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals, Rays, Blue Jays, and Nationals.
Here's a map showing the location of each Grapefruit League team's spring training facility, including distances and estimated driving times for traveling from ballpark to ballpark.
Here's the full schedule of Grapefruit League games, with links for purchasing tickets.
Arizona hosts the Cactus League, home to the other fifteen major league teams: Diamondbacks, Cubs, White Sox, Reds, Indians, Rockies, Royals, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers, A's, Padres, Giants, Mariners, and Rangers.
Here's the full schedule of Cactus League games, with links for purchasing tickets.
Spring Training on TV and Radio
If traveling to spring training games isn't on your schedule this year, don't despair. Nearly all Grapefruit and Cactus League games can be heard on the radio and many will be broadcast on TV. To get the radio and TV information for your team's games, go to your team's mlb.com site and click on "Schedule" in the top navigation bar, and then "Broadcast Schedule."
For the big bucks, there's also MLB.tv, which will show more than 150 spring training games without blackouts. We should only be so lucky during the regular season.
What To Expect During Spring Training Games
We're all eager for major league action, but the players will be a bit rusty, especially in the first week of games. There will be balls through the infield, circuitous routes to fly balls, and lots of swings and misses. Oh, and base running gaffes. Maybe even something like this:
Up Close and Personal With Players
Autographs! Autographs! Autographs! Everyone wants autographs of their favorite players. Yes, even you. And spring training is a great time to get autographs. Players are more relaxed and accessible, especially at workout sessions before games begin.
But if you really want to get to know the players, stick around for the nightlife. That's when things can get, hmmm, interesting.
For meeting and mingling with Cactus League players, try these Phoenix-area hot spots:
And for grooving with Grapefruit League players, check out these Florida nighttime destinations:
And there you have it, baseball fans: Everything you need to know to get the most out of spring training. I can smell the freshly cut grass already.