It’s that time of year again! Spring Training is underway. It’s big business for Florida and Arizona. That’s why you see so many communities spending big bucks for spring training facilities. It doesn’t last long, but it sure brings in the tourist dollars while it lasts.
A bit of trivia: the Arizona Diamondbacks’ spring training facility is the closest to their home ball park of any team in the Major Leagues. I guess that’s one of the advantages of being a franchise in Arizona.
Some players are very eager to get to spring training, especially if they live in northern climates. Buzzy Bavasi, who was general manager of the Dodgers for many years, recalled receiving a letter from a player who said he agreed to everything in his contract offer and would be on his way to training camp. Bavasi said he hadn’t even sent him his contract for that season.
Did you ever wonder how spring training began? As with many things regarding baseball’s origins, the exact start of spring training is unclear. In 1870, though, two of the first professional clubs, the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings, held training camps in New Orleans before the start of the season.
Some attribute spring training to the 1886 Chicago White Stockings. Their manager was Cap Anson, the greatest player of the 19th Century. He was unhappy with how his players would be out of shape when they reported for the season. So, in 1886, he had them report several weeks early and shipped them off to a training camp he set up at a resort in Hot Springs, Ark. By the time, the season began, these guys were ready to play.
By the start of the 20th Century, spring training in the south was already well-established. Later, teams would also train in California and Arizona. To raise money to pay for these camps, teams would barnstorm and play each other, along with local teams. These eventually developed into today’s Grapefruit and Cactus circuits.
The first team to hold spring training in Arizona was the 1929 Detroit Tigers. The first spring training game in Arizona was March 26 of that year, when the Tigers played the Pittsburgh Pirates in Phoenix.
In 1946, Bill Veeck, the owner of the Cleveland Indians, persuaded Horace Stoneham, the owner of the New York Giants, to move his spring training to Phoenix while the Indians would train in Tucson. This was the start of the Cactus League.
Perhaps the best known Cactus League team, the Chicago Cubs, started training in Mesa in 1952. When it looked like Wrigley Field might not be ready for opening day a few years ago due to renovations, Chase Field was suggested as a possible alternate site as there as so many Cubs’ fans in the Phoenix area.
While spring training has mostly been is sunny locations, the teams trained in the North during World War II. There were wartime travel restrictions, and the owners realized it wouldn’t look right for ballplayers to be working out in sunny Florida or California while so many other Americans were off overseas fighting the Axis powers of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy.
The main purpose of spring training hasn’t changed: getting the team ready for the upcoming season. This means giving instruction to those who need it, as well as determining who stays on the roster and who doesn’t. It is a vital part of baseball, and it will remain so for the forseeable future.