Spring training is still great fun for fans, but it is a changed animal from a decade and longer ago.
The best part of spring training for fans is leaving the gray snow and too-cold nights for a little sun-and-shorts weather. The pilgrimages to Florida and Arizona are well under way.
Once upon a time, Dodgertown in Florida was the epitome of what a spring training facility and experience was supposed to feel like. Now the Dodgers aren’t even in Dodgertown, or Florida for that matter.
Fans could roam the grounds between the workout fields, clubhouses and picnic areas and did so with players who were walking the same paths.
Sandy Koufax chatted with fans while he headed to a warmup mound, and when the games were played, there were no dugouts and fans were two feet from the benches leaning on a 4-foot high chain fence.
Can you imagine?
Once all barricades that separated the players and fans were low or nonexistent. Those separators are now very high, permanent and a long way from the players.
Getting an autograph in the spring is just about as difficult as obtaining one during the season.
Players’ parking lots have separate entrances, locked gates and never do they touch the grounds that fans walk.
Spring training is no longer much cared about by the players. After 10 days or so, they are ready to go.
There are few roster spots left to be decided in spring training and the emphasis is on not getting hurt.
Spring is now about making money for the owners. Players do not share in spring revenues, and that may well be an issue in the next round of negotiations in a couple years.
This year, spring games are actually starting in February. That means most teams will have been in camp for only a week before the games begin.
You won’t see many roster players in these games, and when they do play, the car is still running in order to get out quickly after one at-bat.
Not to diminish what can be a quiet and relaxing day at the yard this spring, it’s just that the image of spring training has been passed by the reality of the business of baseball.
The best way to enjoy spring training is to get to the park early in the day for player workouts.
Generally, fans can wander the complex by the workout fields and actually see the players go through drills and take batting practice.
That can be as much fun as the spring games and it’s free.