A typical scene from an extended spring training game, which are played on practice fields in front of few fans.
Simply put, extended spring training is an extension of spring training for players that werenít assigned to one of an organizationís four full-season minor league teams at the conclusion of spring training. The players that werenít released then are left behind to practice and play in the limbo that is ďextended,Ē the shorthand word for what amounts to baseball purgatory.
That purgatory lasts for two months, as the extended season follows a timeline of early April to early June. While some dates during the two-month span are designated as camp days, which means no games are played and only workouts and drills are conducted out in the open, all teams play a regular slate of games against opposition from other organizations.
Played in relative anonymity, games are free to attend Ė but few folks do. Girlfriends and grandparents might fill a few spots in the stands, but otherwise itís mostly team personnel and players themselves that make up the ďcrowd.Ē
Playing games to almost no fanfare with an equal amount of publicity, extended spring training is one of the only aspects of professional baseball where itís hard to prove it exists unless youíre there.
For those that happen to find themselves in Arizona or Florida during extended spring training (or EST to use an acronym) and want to attend a game, the following questions and answers detail what happens when and where.
When are games played?
Who do teams play?
Where can a schedule be found?
And if you do find a schedule posted on a teamís website or elsewhere, thereís no guarantee that it will be 100% accurate when it comes to game times. While dates and opponents should be concrete, a 1 PM game can be moved up to Noon without anyone outside of the players and coaches knowing it. Thatís because the visiting team usually determines the game time and may decide to change when they wish to arrive, which happens occasionally but not often. When it does, a gameís staring time is likely to be affected by an hour. The 1 PM to Noon example listed above was based on the Yankees choosing to move up some of their road game times during May 2016.
Who can you expect to see playing in an extended spring training game?
How many fields are used for the games?
What is the extended spring training game experience like?
Since games are played at a field rather than in a ballpark most of what accompanies a baseball game is absent, at least from a fanís perspective. So thereís no turnstile to enter, no concession stands serving up anything, no PA announcements to hear, no easy way to identify who is playing or, oftentimes, tell what the score is, as not all fields are equipped with a scoreboard. And even when a scoreboard is available it might not be used. Bathrooms and water fountains are the extent of the amenities a fan can expect to find. Seating is limited to aluminum bleachers. At many places, you can choose to stand directly behind the backstop. Itís basically like watching a game at a high school field, except more unofficial as you just show up, since tickets arenít needed.
Also, the game itself might not proceed in an orderly fashion. Priority is given to MLBers playing in the games, so situations can be rigged to make sure they get their work in. For example, itís possible that the same player will be the leadoff hitter for many innings in a row. Or alternatively, a player going through rebab that might not be ready to hit will play the field but never take his turn at bat. This is not the norm, but for the occasional major leaguer making a cameo in an extended spring training game situations can be created for their benefit that alter the typical structure of a baseball game.
Regardless of circumstances, games do look normal, as the players are all dressed in major league spring training uniforms. Some teams even wear jerseys that have last names and numbers on their backs; others just have numbers on the back of the jerseys, which are the solid-colored batting practice tops that major league teams sport in their exhibition games. And a two-man umpiring crew is used, just as is the case in lower level minor league games, with the umps dressed in their official minor league attire.
Do many fans go to the games?
After the draft is completed (itís held June 9-11 in 2016), a new batch of players report to each teamís spring training complex to begin their careers, while the holdovers from EST can either join them in what becomes the Gulf Coast League (Florida) or Arizona League, which play very similarly-styled low key games beginning in late June at the various complexes, or they can be promoted to a minor league team, which can also happen anytime during the extended spring season (the inverse is also true, as players can be demoted to EST), with the most common promotion being to a ďshort-seasonĒ team, so referenced because they compete in the four minor leagues that begin their seasons in late June.
Of course, the worst alternative for players on an extended roster is to be released.
For those that get stuck in Arizona and Florida with all the newcomers, their professional careers become a little less anonymous, as schedules and stats are available for the Gulf Coast and Arizona leagues, but the games are often played in daylight hours and always in front of few fans, which makes the two leagues almost an extension of extended spring training.
Graham Knight has seen it all when it comes to spring training. Such was his feeling after attending extended spring training games at five complexes in 2016, which enabled him to write the article on this page. He has made countless trips to watch "real" spring training games in Arizona and Florida, plus has spent plenty of time on back fields observing major league practice sessions and minor league games too. His years of experience chronicling everything about exhibition baseball's locations have made him an expert on all subjects associated with spring training.