This is an update to a post that first appeared in March 2018.
Finally our seasonal spring weather has arrived: sunshine; warm temperatures; longer days; more outdoor activities; wildflowers; the scent of citrus; and baseball. When it comes to baseball I see it as a metaphor for spring: the rebirth of another season when anything seems possible; the bestowal of a sense of normalcy; and a time when youth will be served in fact or in mind. Baseball fans enjoy beauty of the vibrant green field; take comfort in the symmetry of the diamond; appreciate simplicity of the game (pitch, hit, run, and catch); and relish the complexity that lies beneath the surface.
Years ago when I attended my first spring training games in Arizona I was enthralled. I love the energy, anticipation, sights, sounds and smells. I enjoy the drama that plays out in every game: players rehabbing, trying to make the team or least make an impression. For them, every game is meaningful. And of course it is a lot of fun too. I remember an umpire handing a ball to a kid under one condition. He made the kid take an oath: “I promise to never, ever, yell at an umpire again”.
Today the innocence and purpose of spring training has changed. It’s as much about big business as it is about the game of baseball. The economic impact of spring training in Arizona is estimated at $544 million annually (I’ve seen estimates of up to $800 million). Over 60% of fans come from out of town. Spring training has become a 6 week event to promote tourism. In order to keep and lure fans, new stadiums costing upwards of $100 million have been built. Multi-million dollar renovations occur each year which fuel the facilities arms race.
Attendance for the most popular teams (Cubs, Diamondbacks and Giants) averages over 10,000 per game (14,800 for the Cubs) which makes it difficult to find tickets. (I don’t even bother trying to get tickets to see the SF Giants play at Scottsdale Stadium.) Parking is a hassle. The price of tickets has skyrocketed to the point that it’s more expensive than regular season games.
Stadiums are filled with fans from out of town more than willing to pay up to see their home town guys (although many are minor leaguers). Many don’t pay close attention to the game itself because they’re too busy soaking up the sun, drinking beer (a cheap version costs $8) and chatting with everyone around them. It is fun. It is entertaining. And it does cost.
2019 has had an unusually cool and wet spring. But finally the weather has warmed up. So I checked on games that appeal to me. Unfortunately most are already sold out (attendance picks up as March unfolds). When I finally found a promising game I did a double take. The ticket price was $80! No way am I spending $80 per ticket to see an exhibition game. So this year I’m sitting out spring training which makes me sad because some of the anticipation and nostalgia of the return of spring is going, going, gone.