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Baseball fans living in Florida are lucky to have professional baseball right in their backyards a month before the season starts. Each spring, all MLB teams are split into two different leagues for pre-season play: The Cactus League, located in Arizona, and the Grapefruit League, located throughout central and southern Florida.
Being one of those fans, I have a standing tradition with my best friend to make a day trip to a different team’s spring training destination every March. And while most teams spring facilities are a solid 2-to-3-hour ride from Valencia’s east campus, there are a few closer options providing a look into all the Grapefruit League has to offer.
Starting with the team that makes their home closest to us, the Atlanta Braves play in Champion Stadium at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, located in the heart of Walt Disney World. Depending on the Disney traffic, you could get there in under an hour, which is not bad at all considering what a baseball fan could get out of the trip.
As part of our tradition, my friend and I decided on Champion Stadium for last year’s Grapefruit expedition, and we were immediately impressed by the facility. No surprise coming from the “happiest place on earth,” but the interior of this stadium was probably the nicest of any spring training park I’ve been too. Pair that with the ballpark-style seating and the phenomenal view you get from the upper deck, and you’re in for a good time.
While a proper baseball atmosphere is all you need to sell me on a trip to the ballpark, the main reason I would advise a Braves game this spring is that sweet, sweet pipeline. The Atlanta Braves host 8 of the games top 100 prospects, that’s good for second best in the league. Throw in Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. (two top prospects they brought up last season) and the house that Mickey built becomes the springtime home of baseball’s future.
Our next closest team is the Detroit Tigers, who have set up camp at Publix Field Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland. One could guess that the Tigers feel at home in Lakeland considering they have returned for their 85th consecutive spring, which is easily the longest-standing relationship between a big-league team and a host city.
Joker Marchant Stadium boasts some new renovations, including more box seats, concession stands, a kids fun zone, a 1,800 square foot team shop, and more shading. They seem to offer a kind of pick your own way to experience a game.
Funny enough, the main reason I would encourage a trip to Joker Marchant is actually the opposite of why you’d want to go to a Braves game. While the Braves may hold the key to baseball’s future, the Tigers hold a big piece of baseball history: Miguel Cabrera. Miggy is one of two living Triple Crown winners, and probably the outright greatest hitter of my lifetime. But with Miggy set to blow out 37 candles next month, no one can be too sure how many more years he has in him, meaning this could very well be his final spring training.
Besides that, there’s the Mets and the Yankees; they are about a two-hour drive from Valencia. I wish a few more teams would migrate towards Central Florida, but with all the teams in the Grapefruit League playing each other, you get the chance to plan out a day to go when the team you want to see is closest to you. March also might be the best month of the year to watch baseball outside in Florida, so why not take a day out of your spring break to enjoy some sun, cover your shoes in peanut shells, and take in a beautiful game.