While the Northeast is still digging itself out from a terrible blizzard named for an adorable fish, the first sign of spring has arrived. Forget the robins and the pussy willows and all those first blooming flowers, you know spring has truly arrived when the first weary ballplayers emerge from their sports cars and SUVs and take to the many ballfields scattered across Florida and Arizona, tenderly stretching sore muscles and chancing those first tentative throws.
Tuesday (Feb. 12) is the voluntary spring training report date for pitchers and catchers and Friday (Feb. 15) is the day all other, non-World Baseball Classic players are free to report. All your favorite players are in the best shape of their lives and ready to start preparing for a new season of baseball. Here at MLB Daily Dish, we have all the info you need to be ready for the split squad games, the positional battles and the final cuts. Rejoice! Baseball is back (almost).
Related: Pitchers and Catchers' Report Dates
Spring training is almost as old as professional baseball itself. As early as the 1890s, teams have been heading south for early season practice, venturing to places like Hot Springs, Ark., Tulsa, Okla., Honolulu, Hawaii and of course, Arizona and Florida. While those early spring training sessions were very informal and teams often had to play against local clubs or with whatever other team happened to close by, these days, two leagues exist for the sole purpose of preparing teams for the regular season.
Here is everything you need to know about the Cactus League and the Grapefruit League.
The Cactus League
Teams: Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers
15 teams take to the Arizona desert to practice among the cacti and tumbleweeds. The teams are spread out within a 47 mile radius around the greater Phoenix area with clubs as far west as Surprise and as far east as Mesa. The first official Cactus League games begin on Friday, Feb. 22, when the Indians host the Reds, the Mariners host the Padres and Rangers host the Royals. The games continue until March 30, when the Reds join the Indians for one last exhibition before heading home.
The oldest active ball park in the Cactus League is Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which has been in use since 1964. It served as the Spring Training home for the San Francisco Giants for years, but the Oakland A's have been playing there since 1984. Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the joint home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies, is the newest field in the league, opening in 2011. With the opening of Salt River Fields, the two final Tucson holdouts moved to the Pheonix area, making it the sole home of spring baseball out West.
The Grapefruit League
Teams: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals
Unlike the centralized Cactus League, teams in the Grapefruit League are spread out all across the central Florida region, with teams in Jupiter, Port St. Lucie and Viera on the East Coast and stretched out from Clearwater to Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast, as well as inland at Lake Buena Vista, Kissimmee and Lakeland. Travel between Grapefruit League parks can be over 200 miles, resulting in more split squad games and partial travel rosters.
The Grapefruit League schedule kicks off with the Red Sox traditional doubleheader against Boston College and Northeastern on Feb. 21. The first two major league teams meet up the next day when the Tigers visit the Braves. The last games are played on March 30 with the Mets visiting the Orioles and the Twins visiting the Red Sox.
The Pittsburgh Pirates spring training home, McKechnie Field is the oldest park used for spring training games and one of the oldest ballparks in America, dating back to 1923. The Pirates have been playing spring training games there since 1969. Though it is quite a bit younger than MacKechnie Field, the Tigers have been playing games at their Lakeland home, Joker Marchant Stadium, since 1966, for the longest spring training residency of any team. The Tigers have actually been playing in the area for even longer than that, traveling to Lakeland since 1934, with a year off during World War II. The newest facility in the Grapefruit League is the Red Sox JetBlue Park at Fenway South. The facility, which opened last spring, is built to resemble Fenway Park, right down to the Green Monster.
The games may not count in the standings, but for young players looking to earn a shot at the major leagues and for veterans hoping to hang on for another season, the games of the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues are anything but meaningless.
Stay with MLB Daily Dish for all the latest drama from Spring Training 2013.