PHOTO: It's Spring Training time for Major League Baseball. (photo via Flickr/Sean Winters)
For baseball fans, spring training is one of the best times of the year. Hope is in the air, as each and every team across the MLB believes that this is the year that they’ll make it all the way to the World Series. Not only that but after a long winter without baseball, the first pitches of spring training are a welcome sign for those who love the warmer weather.
Spring is in the air. Baseball is in the air.
It’s a beautiful thing.
For the avid traveler who’s also an avid baseball fan, traveling to a spring training location and not only taking in a game or two, but taking in the sights, sounds, and activities of that spring training city can be the perfect vacation and the perfect way to usher in a new season.
Of course, most fans will want to see their favorite team play and that’s the No. 1 factor when it comes to deciding which spring training destination to check out. Yet, for those who don’t care as much about the specific teams and are just looking for a nice baseball-filled getaway, these five locations offer the best spring training experiences.
West Palm Beach, Florida (Washington Nationals, Houston Astros) *Grapefruit League
The spring training home of the Nationals and Astros, West Palm Beach is a fantastic destination vacation for baseball fans. The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is brand new and open for the first time for spring training in 2017. It’s been 20 years since spring training was held in West Palm Beach, but it makes sense why the MLB wanted to come back.
Obviously, the weather is usually beautiful down in that part of Southeast Florida, and the fancy new stadium has drawn great reviews so far. It’s a beautiful park, and baseball fans can’t ask for more in that regard.
Aside from baseball, though, West Palm Beach offers plenty of attractions. Cityplace is a hopping downtown center, with plenty of places to grab a refreshing drink or a bite to eat. The Palm Beach Zoo is a bit smaller than zoos in bigger cities, but it has plenty to see in terms of exotic wildlife. And if you really want to get the full experience, McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary is a top tourist destination in the area.
McCarthy’s offers a guided tour that allows visitors to get up close and personal with a variety of unique animals, including tigers, lions snakes and more.
Last but not least, for those looking for a day in the sun, John D. MacArthur Beach State Park offers trails, a boardwalk, a beachfront park and, of course, the Atlantic ocean.
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Tampa, Florida (New York Yankees) *Grapefruit League
Specifically for baseball fans, Tampa is a great spring training location because of the variety of teams in the area. The Yankees play at George M. Steinbrenner Field and though New York gets a reputation for being the “Evil Empire” in baseball circles, the chance to watch one of the most iconic teams in sports is tough to pass up.
The Yankees aren’t the only team in the area, though. The Pirates play in Clearwater and the Blue Jays are in Dunedin, both cities about a half hour West and right near the Pacific ocean—providing the perfect opportunity for a day trip that features both the beach and some spring training baseball.
The Pirates are in Bradenton, 45 minutes South of Tampa, and just a few more minutes down the road you’ll find the Orioles in Sarasota.
Tampa really is the perfect Florida home base for spring training fans, and that’s just considering baseball.
Outside of baseball, kids will love Busch Gardens Tampa. You can also swim with sharks at the Florida aquarium, and if that’s not your speed, at least check out the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center, which is exactly what it sounds like.
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Lake Buena Vista, Florida (Atlanta Braves) *Grapefruit League
Lake Buena Vista is the home of Champion stadium, which is the home of the Atlanta Braves. Much like Tampa, though, there’s plenty of baseball nearby if you’re not a Braves fan, or perhaps you just don’t want to watch one team.
Tampa and all the baseball surrounding it are only an hour West, and the Detroit Tigers play 45 minutes away in Lakeland, which is on the way towards Tampa.
Lake Buena Vista is only about a half hour away from Orlando, which is a prime-time tourist spot, especially if you have kids. Orlando is generally associated with all of Disney’s theme parks, but don’t let that fool you. Lake Buena Vista is jam-packed with things to do for kids and adults alike.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility to catch a spring training game before heading over to Epcot, the Walt Disney World Resort, Typhoon Lagoon Water Park or Hollywood Studios, which are all less than 15 minutes away via car (not considering traffic).
Of course, that’s considering you'd want to leave ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, which is the complex where Champion stadium is held. For fans of baseball, the Wide World of Sports basically has everything you need.
Scottsdale, Arizona (San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies) *Cactus League
We’re moving over to Arizona for the rest of this list, and it’s worth noting that just about any stadium in the Cactus league is easily accessible from the others. The Cactus league is based around the Phoenix area, so everything is within a pretty easy driving distance.
With that said, if you had to pick a Cactus League home base, Scottsdale would be a great choice.
For those not in town just for baseball, Scottsdale offers a ton to do.
Fans of culture will love the main street art district downtown, which is full of galleries and shops. Old Town Scottsdale is also nearby and is a unique experience. It has the feel of an old western town, and it’s worth checking out on a segway or even a horse and carriage ride.
You’ll never find a horse and carriage at the Penske Racing Museum, but that is a nearby location that fans of fast cars and faster races will love.
Maybe you just want to get out into nature, and that’s great because Scottsdale has plenty of that as well. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a good place to get out and explore the trails of the desert a bit. And if you’re feeling like you want to connect with nature and your creative side, check out Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter retreat studio, which is the perfect mixture of Arizona culture, nature and of course, legendary architecture.
Mesa, Arizona (Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics) *Cactus League
Mesa is only about 20 minutes away from Scottsdale, but there’s enough to do there that allows it to stand out.
Of course, in 2017, Sloan Park is home to the defending world champion Chicago Cubs, which is a sentence that not many people thought would ever be written. The Cubbies have always been a big draw, but expect Mesa to be overrun with fans this spring training since they’re entering the 2017 season as the defending champs. The excitement in Mesa will be palpable.
Baseball aside, Mesa offers a ton of culture. There’s the Mesa Arts Center, which hosts both exhibits and shows, the Air Force Museum, where you can find beautiful classic airplanes -- both civilian and military -- and the museum of natural history, which kids will love.
Back to baseball, as mentioned, Mesa is very close to Scottsdale, but it’s also less than 15 miles from Tempe, where the Los Angeles Angels play.
Mesa is also a half an hour away from downtown Phoenix, which boasts a ton to do, including a children’s museum, an art museum, and the Enchanted Island Amusement Park.