A Reader’s Digest version on the history of spring training

It’s the words that every baseball fan loves to hear in between the end of football season.

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training!

Spring Training. For a few weeks in Florida and Arizona, Major League Baseball players spend the late winter and early spring getting the cobwebs off of their bodies after a long winter. They get back to business working on the very basics like stretching, throwing, hitting, running and catching to eventually playing a slew of practice or exhibition games to separate the men from the boys for the final roster for the 162 game regular season. Games are played against other Major League teams, split squads and against local and top college teams.

Spring training is almost as old as the sport itself. Recorded history has the first professional spring training occurring in 1870 with the Cincinnati Red Stockings taking on the Chicago White Stockings in an organized baseball camp in New Orleans. A few other baseball historians have the National League’s Washington Capitals holding the first spring training in a four-day camp in 1888 in Jacksonville, Fla. There is another story that has the first spring training coming in 1886 with the Chicago White Sox stopping off in Hot Springs, Ark., to “sober up” after a long winter of drinking and carousing. Whatever story you want to believe (my personal favorite is the White Sox sobering up story), by the turn of the 20th Century, most teams had adopted a spring training regimen in Florida, Arizona, California and even Hawaii as the Pittsburgh Pirates trained in Honolulu for a brief period. The Brooklyn Dodgers once trained in Havana, Cuba in 1947 and 1949 and in the Dominican Republic in 1948, as did the New York Yankees. Other teams have held spring training in Puerto Rico and cities in northern Mexico. The Cubs used to hold spring training just a few blocks from where I live here in Long Beach at Blair Field.

During World War II Major League Baseball teams tried to avoid going overseas, limited their traveling and stayed closer to home with temporary spring training sites. The White Sox trained in French Lick, Ind., the Washington Senators in College Park, Md., and the Yankees were in Asbury Park, N.J. Today spring training as we know it is held primarily in Florida (The Grapefruit League) and Arizona (The Cactus League) that includes a mishmash of interleague play, college and split squad games, and it’s become big business too.

The Grapefruit League has the Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Florida Marlins, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals. The Cactus League consists of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.

Teams often sell out games and series and many people across the country schedule their vacations around spring training to see their favorite teams in stadiums that are smaller and more intimate, cheaper ticket prices, fans have better access to the players, and enjoy the great weather that Florida and Arizona has to offer. There have been some failed efforts in Las Vegas to get a few teams to jump ship. It would be great to see a team to train somewhere here in Southern California again. And besides, where else are retirees from the northern states and Midwest going to go during the winter?

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