Spring Training Is Like Tailgating 24-7

florida1.jpg The start of baseball season is a gradual process. You hear the term ‘pitchers and catchers,’ while shoveling your driveway and think, cool, winter is almost over. Then you start seeing your favorite ballplayers on the 6 o’clock news, lazily running along the outfield wall or stretching in a sun-drenched field, and you know it’s getting close. Even though it is dark and cold where you are, (or at least where I am) the glimpses of spring training give you hope – baseball season is coming!

Finally, Opening Day arrives. And while it is still baseball, it is usually pretty cold and wet that time of year (again, at least where I am,.maybe I should consider moving somewhere warmer). The tailgating can be a little hard to come by so early in the season, and the late innings of night games are a test of your loyalty.

florida2.jpgBut things eventually round into shape around June. The flip flops come out, the sweatshirts get packed away, and the parking lots become filled with fans of all ages hanging out before the game,yup, tailgating.

It may take a while, but it is definitely worth it. Besides, baseball is a pretty lazy sport, no need to rush into things. Except this year. This year was a little different for me. This year, I traveled down to sunny Clearwater Beach to catch my beloved World Champion Philadelphia Phillies in Spring Training.

That whole gradual process I just described? Poof. Gone. Out the window. I went from the snowy, bitter cold of Philly to another world – a world filled with beaches, bathing suits and 80 degree weather – in about 3 hours. It may have been the smartest decision of my life.

The second my friends and I got off the plane, we hightailed it right to the stadium for a day game. Pretty soon I was in full-on summer mode – spitting sunflower seeds, drinking ice cold beer with lime, and getting a tan (well, sunburn, but who’s counting?), all while watching a ballgame in beautiful weather.

Vacations on their own are relaxing, and ballgames on their own are relaxing. When you add in the fact that it was spring training, with no pressure and a beautiful minor league stadium, well, you really can’t ask for more. Except for some tailgating, of course. And that is exactly what we got.

brighthouse-field.jpgAfter the game ended, I noticed some employees setting up two sets of cornhole by the tiki bar in the outfield: moth, meet flame. Pretty soon I’m playing cornhole with a tiki bar next to me, a gorgeous baseball diamond behind me, and a hundred other likeminded fans all around me. It was beautiful.

The rest of the trip was pretty similar – extremely relaxing, tons of baseball, and a few more games of cornhole. When we had seats, we were almost close enough to touch the players. When we didn’t, we laid out some blankets and sat on the grass berm in the outfield, chatting with the bullpen in between innings. Now, my normal baseball experiences are pretty much centered around the tailgate – Who’s bringing the grill? Who’s got the cornhole? Should we get a keg? Etc, This was a little bit different.

In spring training, if you get to the stadium early, you just go in and watch some batting practice. There really isn’t much of a tailgate scene. However, you could argue that the entire trip was just one long tailgate. Ice cold beers were never too far away, we had multiple bags of sunflower seeds at the ready, our mitts were constantly in the car, just waiting to have a catch, and there was a cornhole set inside the stadium!