The late winter pilgrimage to the sun-soaked states of Arizona and Florida that is Spring Training in Major League Baseball is interwoven in tradition and easy living like the seams on a baseball. It is that time, whether graced under palm trees and balmy skies, or around red rocks and cacti, that fans get tantalizing tastes and intangible glimmers of what could be. Hope springs abound, cold beer flows, and sun shines down on Spring Training.

I spent an extended weekend on the Western end of the fantastic ordeal and while crossing the vast, flat, dryness that is Southwestern Arizona with my father, I realized that I had forgotten my press pass. The fact that it was indeed of the all access variety offered no temptation on our journey’s progress. We had gone too far into the desert. So, pass less, I traversed the laid-back planes of my spring training experience as the fan that I am. What I found is that much is versed in tradition, but change- as it has proven pesky throughout history- is sometimes unavoidable. I relay my observations here in this Fans Eye View.

In spring ball, the games don’t count. This is evident in the spring training venue in which I took in most of my exhibition action, Hohokam Stadium in Mesa. No, the games don’t mean anything, nor they say, do the stats. In reading any coverage of the happenings of the spring, this fact will be reiterated until your eyes bleed. A grain of salt with the stats. Its only spring after all, and all that. These stats exist though. Right? They must because I’ve read about them. I’m just not sure where they are. Certainly not on any stadium board, or accessible to any fan watching the game. I understand I’m excessive in desiring a batters BABIP in March; is the home run total from the 2017 campaign out of the question though? How about, for starters, what a player has done thus far this spring, or, what he has done in his previous trips to the plate today (the audacity!)? I suppose, though, I am asking too much from the exhibition game where number 77 is playing short stop, and there is no name on his back- good luck keeping score.

There are a number of aspects about the atmosphere that feel quaint. Cheap parking is one of them. In Mesa, I experienced paying one quarter of the price that big league parking runs in Oakland. Not bad. That will leave any fan feeling fine in the Arizona sun. Furthermore, making big league exhibition feel a little more life size, is the intimacy of the ball parks, and the proximity to the players. Hohokam, the A’s spring home, reached capacity at 10,000 on a mild Friday afternoon. Cute crowd. Split squad action on the following Saturday brought half of the team to the back fields (one of my favorite terms) for BP, while the other half squad was playing on the other side of the berm. I ambled up, tall can in hand, to the backfield action, expecting to see players on the fringe of the 40-man roster. What I saw was Matt Olson, Steven Piscotty, and Matt Joyce taking BP. Fielding grounders off a fungo at short was A’s top prospect Franklin Barreto. As I stood and looked on through the feeble chain link which separated us- I was feeling- well, pretty good. The spring experience was turning cacti into my favorite form of vegetation. Arizona in March is prime.

Make no mistake, quaintness brings fans closer to their favorite players, nobody is supposed to care about the stats, but there is an unmistakable air of the big leagues. And suitably so. Though exhibition, this is still pro baseball we are talking about here. I could hold no legitimate qualms- nonetheless, tickets could be called anything but cheap. Though it was less expensive to sit in the bleachers (which were real bleachers) in Mesa, than Oakland (not real bleachers), the difference was not substantial. Still rather pricey. On the extreme side, tickets to see the Giants in Scottsdale were astronomical. The prices were as outrageous as our seats were horrible. It depends on the market I gather- even if the team isn’t playing in it.

Spring training also big leagues you on beer. This is no joke. Prices are the same. Evidently it doesn’t matter if you don’t know who’s playing left field- your Bud Light is still 11 bucks.

In summation, Spring Training is blowing up. I overheard a few conversations pertaining to this point and supporting it for that matter. All things considered, it’s better than the alternative: the league drying up like a diseased cactus. Who can blame anybody though, the weather is great, the baseball is fresh from a cold winter- and nobody has any worries. Just don’t strain your UCL because about the only thing that can ruin Spring Training is Tommy John.

Nick Leo

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