Baseball season is back and we made a trip down to Florida to check out the action for ourselves. This was the first time I had made the trip down to Spring Training and I highly recommend it for all baseball fans. The tickets were cheap, the weather was amazing, and the overall experience was exceptional.
Our first stop was in Clearwater where the Yankees took on the Phillies at Spectrum Field. We arrived early to catch some batting practice and in hopes of getting some autographs. On this trip was just my wife and I, she is a Phillies fan and while I am more of a players fan I have always rooted for the Yankees since my brother is a big Mets fan. It also turns out that my favorite players (A-Rod, Randy Johnson, Giancarlo Stanton) tend to wind up on the Yankees at some point as well.
When we got to the stadium we went straight to our seats in section 119, one section to the left of the Phillies dugout. We made our way to the first row and waited for the players to walk by as they finished up batting practice. Aaron Altherr was the first to stop by and sign some balls for the fans. After Altherr we waited for abour 20 minutes with no activity and decided to make our way over to the first baseline since the Yankee players had just came out to the field to warm up. This was a huge mistake that we learned from. While we both sat on the first baseline hoping for a Yankees player to stroll by and sign autographs, we noticed that Rhys Hoskins and another Phillies player was over at section 119 signing autographs. As it turned out, the Yankees did not sign a single autograph the entire time. We also found that none of the big names were even there that day. No Stanton, no Judge, no Sanchez, no Bird, not even Russell Wilson. And the few stars they did have out there like Ellsbury, Sabathia and Hicks paid the fans no mind, walking right past them on the way to the dugout without so much as a wave.
We made our way back over to the third baseline and my wife, in her Phillies uniform, was able to squeeze through to a spot in the front row again. She waited there with several balls in her bag ready to go. About 30 minutes before game time, the players began making their way out of the clubhouse. As they walked to the dugout several players stopped to sign autographs for their fans. It was a great experience as my wife came away with autographs of 7 different players including coach Gabe Kapler.
After the excitement ended, we made our way back to the seats and took in the game. While our seats were great, row 7, we decided to walk around the stadium after the third inning to get food and check out the shops. We wound up taking a seat on the lawn in the outfield to enjoy the rest of the game. There was a nice breeze and sunny skies. No better way to spend the day. While we were out there, Andujar of the Yankees hit a home run that landed no more than 5ft from where we were sitting.
After the game we hung around the Tampa/Clearwater area for a few hours before making our way back to Orlando where we were staying for the weekend.
Day 2, we made the 2.5hr drive down to West Palm Beach where the Astros were playing the Mets for a 6pm game. We got down there early and had time to spend on the beaches of West Palm Beach before heading to the game. Since we had a number of autographs by the Phillies the day before, we had to make a pit stop at Walmart to restock, and it’s a good thing we did!
We arrived at the stadium about 2hrs before game time and caught the Mets taking batting practice. Since the Astros were already in the clubhouse we both made our way over to the first baseline where the Mets were warming up. The first player to acknowledge the fans was Todd Frazier who signed several autographs on his way to the clubhouse. Wilmer Flores also stopped to sign autographs on his way to the clubhouse. Travis d’Arnaud acknowledged the fans by telling them that he would be back out to sign in a little while. Cespedes did the same thing, however Cespedes did not come through on his promise to the fans. After 20 minutes, d’Arnaud was the first Mets player to come back out onto the field and, as promised, he stopped to sign several autographs before going into the dugout. Brandon Nimmo and a few other Mets players also stopped to sign autographs as well.
Learning from the day before, my wife stayed to get autographs by the Mets players while I made my way over to the third baseline for the Astros. I waited there for 30 minutes before the first player came by to sign, it was Riley Ferrell. Shortly after, Springer and Altuve came out to warm up. Fans called there names to get their attention for 20 minutes before Springer ran back into the dugout. Five minutes before game time, after the National Anthem had been sung, Jose Altuve was the last Astros player on the field stretching. Security came down to clear the section as the game was getting ready to begin. As I turned around to make my way up the stands to go to my seat, Altuve put his bag down and walked over to where I had been standing, along with several other fans. I immediately turned myself back around, ignoring the security guard, and was able to get Altuve to sign my ball! It was incredible and made the drive down to that game well worth it.
For the game we sat in the picnic section where fans were given an all you can eat buffet complete with hot dogs, brats, buffalo chicken sandwhiches, chips, and lemonade. It was a great deal and the seats were pretty good also, right down the third baseline. However, just like the day before, we opted to find a seat on the outfield lawn to watch the second half of the game. We also were rewarded with a post-game fireworks show which we skipped since we had a long 2.5hr drive to get back to our hotel.
Saturday morning we ran the Best Damn Race 10k in Orlando. The course was great with nice scenery around the Orlando area and a majority of the course was run on cobblestone roads which was a great touch. The real winner for this race though is the post-race festivities. Many races offer runners bananas, water, Gatorade, and pretzels, and one beer (usually Michelob Ultra). This race went above and beyond though as they offered smoothies, popsicles, Papa Johns pizza, Dunkin Donuts, along with the regulars such as fruits, chips, and cookies. In addition, the post race beer garden served Michelob Ultra, Stella Artois Cider, Bloody Marys and Absolut Vodka Lemonades. We each had a cup of cider and a lemonade. By far the best post-race freebies that I have had and for a race that was only $45. Had we not had somewhere to go, we could have easily spent hours hanging out there.
After the race we made our way to the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Disney where the Braves were playing against the Cardinals. Once again we came prepared with baseballs and sharpies and arrived for batting practice. Again, one hour before game time, we split up. This time I took the first base line where the home team Braves dugout was and my wife took the third baseline for the Cardinals. We each got three autographs before the game began. One player that signed my ball was Rob Brantly who hit a home run in the game that day.
This field was a little different than the other two since you could not walk a full loop around the stadium and there was just one small section in left field where fans could watch the game. The rest of the outfield was closed off from the fans. We sat on the lawn on the third baseline for the beginning of the game, however the Florida sun had taken its toll on us the previous 2 days so we made our way to the outfield where flag poles provided some shade for us. We remained out there for the remainder of the game before making our long drive back up to North Carolina.
Tips for getting autographs at Spring Training:
- Be prepared with baseballs and sharpies. Players move quickly, so don’t miss your chance because you were fumbling to get your pen or ball out.
- If you have somebody with you, then your best bet is to split up about an hour before game time.
- At least one hour before game time is when you need to get into position. Expect to stand there for a while though as players don’t make their way out to the field until around 30 minutes before game time. This is when we got most our signatures.
- Players tend to target the kids, so if you have kids around you then your chances of having a player approach your area is much higher than if you are surrounded by middle aged men.
- With that being said, the thrill of getting a player’s autograph is incredible. But ultimately this is something catered to the kids. So, if you’re up front and you see a child standing behind you, then let them get by you. Chances are you can still reach your arm out to give the player your ball, but that kid cannot do the same if they are behind you.
- Most importantly, be polite. The players are doing this as a curtousy so if a player stops signing right before getting to you or doesn’t sign at all, then do not yell out at them. Accept it for what it is and try again another day.