| Planning For Spring Training, Part III
There's plenty to do and view in both Arizona and Florida. This view is from atop Phoenix's popular Piestewa Peak Summit Trail.
So you’re ready to catch your favorite team in Arizona or Florida for Spring Training, huh? And you know when they’re playing because you’ve checked the schedules – ok, fine. But have you considered the bigger picture of what else there is to do outside the ballpark?
Well, have no fear, Mr. Sports Travel is here (that would be me). I have the answers, having been to every Spring Training site in Arizona and Florida many times. Without further adieu, here’s the “starting nine” of sports and recreation things to do when you're not at your favorite team’s ballpark.
This article is part of a series written by Joe Connor on helping fans to prepare for spring training. Previous articles include 5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Planning Your 2010 Spring Training Trip and Helpful Tips For Planning Your 2010 Spring Training Trip.
- Go see your favorite team play an away game
ARIZONA: Among the most unique in metro Phoenix are the Cubs and Giants (for fan atmosphere) and the A’s for being the oldest park in the circuit as well as having sweet views of picturesque Papago Park in the distance. Also, 2010 is the last year for Tucson’s two Spring Training sites, namely the Rockies' Hi Corbett Field, where Willie Mays Hayes once got a good night’s sleep.
FLORIDA: No two teams have a longer tradition with a Spring Training host city than the Tigers in Lakeland and the Phillies in Clearwater, and both have unique and intimate ballparks. Lakeland has basically been the home of Tiger Town since the mid-1930s while the Phils have held court in Clearwater since 1947. If you’re on the other side of the state, there’s no shortage of games at quaint Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter with its two tenants, the Cardinals and Marlins.
- Experience the history of Spring Training and the grand old game by visiting some great museums and historic sites
ARIZONA: Starting February 26, and running through March, the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa has a unique Cactus League history exhibit with some really unique and interesting artifacts and memorabilia going back to the early days of the league when there were just four teams (now there are 15!). Last year, this exhibit was at the Mesa Historical Museum.
FLORIDA: The Sports Immortals museum in Boca Raton has more sports memorabilia than you can shake a stick at, and if you’re in Dunedin, visit the historical museum downtown, which has an excellent collection of Blue Jays gear, as well as a personal collection of baseball history from “Dunedin Vinnie” Luisi. Also, for a look at how far Spring Training has come, many former sites are littered throughout the Sunshine State and are today used by amateur teams. They include Henley Field in Lakeland; Cocoa Expo in Cocoa Beach; Tinker Field in Orlando; Terry Park in Fort Myers; and Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg (check out the historic plaques on streets outside the ballpark), among others. You can also retrace Jackie Robinson’s rocky 1946 journey through Spring Training by visiting Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona and Memorial Stadium in Sanford. The Ted Williams Museum, inside the Rays' home ballpark, Tropicana Field, will be open April 2 at the end of Spring Training for an exhibition game. And, last but not least, stop by Dodgertown in Vero Beach – even if the boys in blue are now in the desert.
- Grab a bite – and enjoy some great sports memorabilia at the same time
ARIZONA: Stop by Don & Charlie’s, a great restaurant with lots of baseball memorabilia. Sadly, the Pink Pony Restaurant, which had tons of baseball memorabilia too, has closed. Charlie Briley, who helped bring Spring Training to Arizona in the 1950s, owned the baseball hangout. But Diamond's Sports Grille in Mesa also has tons of baseball memorabilia. The bar was originally owned by the late Harry Caray and pitcher Steve Stone.
FLORIDA: Capogna’s Dugout in Clearwater is probably one of my favorite local places to visit in Clearwater with tons of great baseball memorabilia on its walls. For the world wide leader and a plethora of jerseys splashed everywhere, head to the ESPN Club at the Walt Disney World Resort.
- Catch some of the best college baseball, and maybe even some college hoop
ARIZONA: Some of the best amateur baseball in the country is in the Pac-10 and Arizona’s top D-I powers own a combined eight College World Series titles. In metro Phoenix, five-time College World Series champion Arizona State (Reggie Jackson, Bob Horner are alums) has a cozy ballpark while the University of Arizona (Trevor Hoffman, Terry Francona are alums) has an even better one in Tucson. And if you’re going in mid-to-late February or early March, don’t forget the great atmosphere of college hoops, especially at Arizona.
FLORIDA: There’s a plethora of the “ping!” sound throughout the Sunshine State, from growing baseball programs like Central Florida (Orlando) and South Florida (Tampa) to four-time College World Series champion Miami, who plays at Alex Rodriguez Park in Coral Gables. The two-time defending NCAA Men’s Hoop champs, Florida, are two hours north of Tampa in Gainesville.
- Go pro at a hoops or hockey game
ARIZONA: The Valley of the Sun has the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, with one of the best player introductions in sports! Beware the Gorilla! Puck heads – there are plenty of tickets available for the hockey Coyotes.
FLORIDA: If you’ve never been to the TD Waterhouse Centre in Orlando, this is your last chance to catch the NBA’s Magic there as a new arena opens next season. Miami’s got both the NBA Heat and NHL Panthers while Tampa has the NHL Lightning.
- Go for a brisk walk or hike…and/or a rollerblade
ARIZONA: Both Phoenix and Tucson have lots of great hiking opportunities. My favorites are Saguaro National Park in Tucson and South Mountain Park in Phoenix, but there is no shortage of easy mountain top treks. Another fun spot is rollerblading on the paths along Tempe Town Lake.
FLORIDA: Go for a fun stroll and dip your feet in the Gulf of Mexico and catch the sunset on the pristine white sand beaches of Siesta Key in Sarasota or on Sanibel or Captiva Island, outside Fort Myers. Quaint beauties off the beaten path include Caspersen Beach, Venice Beach or Nokomis Beach. On the Atlantic side, my favorite beaches are in the Port Saint Lucie area (near the Mets' complex) where some of the condo commandoes have yet to put a stake in the ground.
- Hit the links or the track
ARIZONA: With 200 golf courses in Phoenix alone, let’s just say there’s no shortage of opportunity to hit the links, or even watch the pros: the Phoenix Open takes place during late February in Scottsdale, which comes a week after the Match Play Championships outside of Tucson. For the track, visit Apache Greyhound Park or Turf Paradise.
FLORIDA: The Sunshine State has more greens than any other in the fruited plain, and during Spring Training four PGA tournaments take place, from the Honda Classic near Palm Beach to the TPC Blue Monster at Doral, the Transitions Championship in the St. Pete-Clearwater area and the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando.
- Want an adrenaline rush?
ARIZONA: Check out Bondurant to pretend you’re Jeff Gordon or go up in the sky in a glider at Turf Soaring School. Want to snowboard like Shaun White? Drive two hours north from Phoenix to Flagstaff and get your kicks on Route 66, too.
FLORIDA: Head to Daytona and take a practice run on the world famous track, or hit the surf at Sebastian Inlet near the Nationals' complex outside Viera. Not your speed? How about kayaking to Caladesi Island off the coast of Clearwater and spotting some dolphins en route?
- Hit the road jack – to some of the great wonders of the world
ARIZONA: If you haven’t been to the Grand Canyon, what are you waiting for? It’s about 90 minutes from Flagstaff. On the way back to Phoenix, check out the red rocks of Sedona and the cool hilltop town of Jerome, home of the Connor Hotel (what a great name). Down Tucson way, visit Tombstone, site of the western movie.
FLORIDA: Head down south for a boat ride through the Everglades or on Lake Trafford (outside Fort Myers) to see tons of gators and birds, or get in a Jimmy Buffett state of mind and head for the Keys. En route, stop by the 7,000-seat Homestead Baseball Complex, which was supposed to be the Indians Spring Training complex before Hurricane Andrew flattened it before their arrival (it has since reopened). The jaunt along U.S. 1 south to Key West is superb and 89 miles from Cuba. While there, soak in the characters on Mallory Square, where the weird turn pro (and where Boog Powell and Khalil Greene played for the High School Conchs).
Theme parks? Oh, I suppose you can do that, too.
, aka Mr. Sports Travel, is a freelance writer for ESPN.com, NBCSports.com and others who has caught a game at every MLB Spring Training ballpark. He’s also the author of the annually-updated online travel planning guide, A Fan’s Guide To The Ultimate Spring Training Experience
, which is available for purchase at Baseball Pilgrimages
. Also, check out his site: www.mrsportstravel.com
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