Edson: An Insider’s Guide to Spring Training

If you’re thinking of heading to Florida or Arizona to spring training, here are a few tips you might want to consider from a guy who used to make his living doing that.

For many years, I would head down to Lakeland, Fla., to cover spring training for the Traverse City Record-Eagle as part of my job as sports editor.

I would file three stories a day – a game story, a feature story and a column. I could lie to you and tell you it was a lot of work. But when you love baseball like I do, it didn’t feel like work at all.

Part of that was because the weather was always perfect – 80 degrees – and the players are usually very cooperative during the laid-back days of spring training.

I would ride to the road games with a group that included Tom Gage of the Detroit News, Harry Atkins of the Associated Press, plus Tigers broadcasters Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey. We would do our jobs and then grab some dinner in the early evening on the way home.

People would often ask me what the five of us talked about in the car or around the dinner table. The surprising answer is that we talked very little about baseball. We talked about our families, movies, music and just topics that all of us find interesting. After spending all day with baseball players, we wanted to talk about something else.

So after I retired last year, I found myself in the role of a fan when my wife and I returned to spring training. A couple years before that, my son and I had gone down to Lakeland for a week. Even though it had been several years since I had been to spring training, my experience from years earlier really paid off in a much better trip. So I’m passing along three valuable tips to you.

1) On days the Tigers play a road game, make this a two-step day. Many times, some of the best players don’t travel to road games. Or at least they alternate going. So last year while many fans were getting in their car and heading to the road game, my wife and I got over to Marchant Stadium around 9 a.m. We weren’t disappointed. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Justin Verlander were among the key players working out and talking to fans. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and there were very few fans. After staying there for 90 minutes, we hopped in the car and went to the Tigers road game. It was a 2-for-1 day.

2) Get to the park early. If you want to get autographs, get to Marchant Stadium by 9 a.m. and stand next to the player’s entrance. You’re not guaranteed getting any, but your chances are much better if you’re polite and if you’re a kid. At least you have access to the players. I’ve had fans tell me they have much better luck getting autographs in the morning when the players are arriving than after the game when they are in a rush to get home.

3) Buy tickets out of the sun and lather yourself with sunscreen. Marchant Stadium has just undergone a massive $40 million renovation and it was much needed. Fans that didn’t have tickets under the cover of sun usually got sun burned on those 80-degree days. Now the renovations have fans protected from baseball to baseline. Still, many spring training vacations have been ruined by fans getting sunburned early in their trip. Don’t let that happen to you.

There are other tips, of course, but that might just be my personal preference. For instance, I much prefer flying in to Tampa, renting a car and making the short drive down I-4 to Lakeland. Flying in to Orlando can be much more congested.

Then there are the small tips like taking both a sweater and a light jacket. Those are things you find out as you return to spring training.

And believe me, once you experience spring training the first time, you’ll go back.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.