Hopefully, Part 1 of our Spring Training Guide made you feel all warm inside as you pondered the possibility of spending time in March down in Ft. Myers FL with the Twins at the Lee County Sports Complex, their Spring Training home.
Today, I’ll continue the series by sharing a couple more things I’ve learned over the years on my trips to catch a bit March baseball with the Twins.
What time do I need to go to the ballpark?
Most game times at Hammond Stadium are at 1:00pm ET, though there is an occasional night game mixed in. Game times at other Grapefruit League ballparks vary a bit but the vast majority are afternoon games. I like to get to the ballpark a bit early, especially since I usually don’t have my tickets ahead of time. But even if I do have tickets, if I’m at the Twins complex, it’s really easy to wander around both the Major League and minor league practice fields in the morning. I don’t try to go quite as early to road games because of the time it takes to drive to them, but I do like exploring the different ballparks a bit before the game.
What’s the ticket situation? Do I need to buy them in advance?
Hmmm… “need”? No.
I prefer to wait to buy my tickets when I get down to Florida. That’s partially due to necessity and partially due to personal preference. It’s certainly not the cheapest approach, but I still prefer to wait for a number of reasons:
- I never make my ST plans early enough that I know which games I want to attend by the time single game ST tickets go on sale.
- If there are tickets available from the team by the time I am ready to buy, they’re not likely to be terrific seats. This, of course, is a relative thing. The ST ballparks, including Hammond Stadium, are essentially very nice minor league ballparks. This means the worst seats are comparable to tickets most of us would snatch up in a heartbeat for a game at Target Field. But, for me, one of the things I like about ST is the ability to get a much closer view of the action on the field. I don’t need the “best” seats… but I like to get “good” seats. Those are seldom, if ever, available from the box office for the Twins home ST games.
- Sometimes it rains (not often… but it CAN happen). I’ll sit through a rain delay without a problem. But if it’s raining enough that the game gets canceled, it’s not like I can exchange my ticket for another game later in the season. I’m there for a fixed number of days.
The night before each game I’m going to attend, I check the next day’s forecast to see if there’s a chance the game may get rained out.
Then I’ll check the team’s own site to see if tickets are available direct. This isn’t likely to be the case for the Twins, but if I’m heading to a road game the next day, it’s a possibility. For example, the Rays have very cheap “general admission” tickets for their games in Port Charlotte and I kind of like sitting at a table out on the outfield boardwalk at their ballpark. (Yes, I know this might seem to contradict my “good seats” rule, but not being shoehorned in to a stadium seat and having the freedom to move around, watch the game at a table near a tiki bar, and holler down at the outfielders and in to the bullpen meets my personal definition of “good seat”. I’m fickle that way.)
If there’s nothing I like available from the team, I’ll check StubHub or other online ticket options that have the option of downloading and printing the ticket at my hotel. I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever bought a ST ticket this way, but that doesn’t stop me from checking.
Most of the time, I find myself without a ticket the morning of the game when I get in my car and head to the ballpark. No problem. I’ve never gone to a ST ballgame and and not found a way to get inside to watch the game. I prefer to get there early enough to have a good set of options from the ticket brokers outside the gates and I’m generally willing to pay a bit of a premium for the seats I want. But if you think prices are really high, you can take a chance by waiting until close to game time when the brokers face having to eat any unsold tickets. It all comes down to how much of a risk you’re willing to take that you’ll get shut out. Personally, I go down there specifically to see the games so I usually get my ticket earlier rather than trying to save a few bucks by waiting.
The demand for Twins home games has increased progressively since I first started making trips to ST. That’s another reason to shop early. You won’t have trouble finding the ticket brokers… they’ll find you as soon as you park your car in the complex parking lot. If you don’t see one there, there should be at least 2-3 of them in the parking lot near the box office.
As for seating preferences, the big deal for me is that I prefer not to sit in the shade. I’m sure the shady seats are popular for minor league games in July, but in March, the temperatures simply aren’t that hot. In fact, it’s not unusual for the weather to be cool enough that sitting in the shade is what makes it uncomfortable. For those of you with longer memories, you may recall from guest reports I did for Howard Sinker’s Strib blog a few years back, I’ve even been known to buy more than one ticket for the same game… just because the first ticket turned out to be in the shade. Get some sun, folks… you’ll be back up north in a few days!
What about tickets for road games?
If you follow the Twins on the road, you can have a little better luck with ticket prices in some places. Despite their recent successes, the Rays tickets in Port Charlotte aren’t too bad and while I haven’t been there in a couple of years, I suspect tickets in Bradenton for Pirate games are still inexpensive. Prices in Sarasota were pretty reasonable when the Reds trained there and I can’t imagine why things would have changed dramatically when the Orioles moved in. On the other hand, prices across town in Ft. Myers for games at the RedSox ballpark won’t be any cheaper than at Hammond and if you want to see games at the Phillies (Clearwater) or Yankees (Tampa) facilities, be prepared to spend a bit more, as well.
Games on the road at Port Charlotte (Rays), Sarasota (Orioles) and Bradenton (Pirates) are easy 60-90 minute 4-lane drives from Ft Myers. The Phillies, Yankees, and Blue Jays all play in the Tampa/St Petersburg metropolitan area, which is 2+ hours up the interstate or more. The Tigers (Lakeland) are well over 2 hours away as well. If you want to see a game in Port St. Lucie (Mets) or Jupiter (Cardinals and Marlins), plan on driving over two hours across the state on slower 2-lane roads to Florida’s east coast.
I enjoy road games because I get to see different ballparks and more of the regular players of the opposing teams play. Just keep in mind that you won’t see as many of the Twins’ own regulars play on the road. The longer the bus trip for the team, the fewer veteran regulars make the trip. Of course, that also means that road games just across town at the Red Sox facility are more likely to feature a higher number of Twins regulars. Likewise, home games against the Sawx means better odds you’ll see more of their stars, as well.
Do players really “try” in ST games?
Of course they try. But what they “try” to do is different than when the games count in the standings.
Some fans seem to forget that the ST games are really just “practice” for the players. A pitcher may go in to a game with instructions to solely focus on one pitch. When he throws 15 straight fastballs, there’s a pretty good chance opposing hitters will figure out what he’s trying to work on and are likely to get some good swings in. The pitcher’s stats may look crappy and he may have “lost the game” for his team, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t accomplish exactly what he and his coaches wanted.
And don’t be shocked when Joe Mauer’s spot in the order comes up in the 6th inning with bases loaded in a close game and you see a kid who looks like he’s 15 years old, wearing a jersey number in the 90s, walking up to pinch hit for Joe.
The point is that these are practice games and you need to keep your expectations in check, accordingly.
In the next (and final) post of this series, I’ll wrap things up by discussing things you might want to consider doing beyond just going to the Spring Training games, themselves.