THE METSGRRL.COM GUIDE TO SPRING TRAINING

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Tickets for the 2008 Spring Training season go on sale January 19th. Although I only went to Spring Training once, since it pleases me to think that I am an excellent traveler (having gone 3/4 of the way around the globe) and so in that spirit, I offer these tips that will hopefully benefit the new spring training visitor as well as offer additional perspectives to veterans. If you are on a budget, this guide is definitely for you.

YMMV, do not taunt happy fun ball, et cetera. Feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments.

WHEN TO GO:

I consider there to be three phases to Spring Training that you can choose to attend:
–Go not long after pitchers and catchers report. There are no exhibition games, but there are less people and you will have more access.
–Go at the beginning of spring training. There are games, but less people.
–Go at the end of spring training. The entire world is there and opening day is just around the corner.
–(We did this last year and would not do it again.)

When you want to go will depend on whether you want to stay around Port St. Lucie the entire time or if you want to see the Mets play at other stadiums. Keep in mind that the Mets will be more accessible anywhere except Port St. Lucie (and even then, every other team except that Other Team from New York is a gazillion times more accessible than the Mets, anywhere, ever).

Going when there are no exhibition games, and only open workouts, will probably mean you have something else to keep you busy. Otherwise, Port St. Lucie and environs get mighty boring mighty fast. That said, we are not beach people. But Port St. Lucie is essentially in the middle of nowhere.

Free tip; If you see that the team is playing a split squad, and one of the split squads is staying at home, understand that’s not a split squad so much as an a-team and b-team split. You will definitely get the b-team if you don’t stay at Port St. Lucie for the game. This could be highly interesting or not so much. We did this last year, and while it was cool watching John Maine pitch from so close, it was definitely the b-squad.

BUYING GAME TICKETS:

Plenty of people are going to tell you that you don’t need to bother to buy tickets in advance. Maybe if you are one person who doesn’t mind taking a chance because if you don’t get in, you’ll go watch alligators, or something, you can choose that option. Otherwise I would advise you to soundly ignore everyone who tells you that you don’t need to buy tickets and that they always roll up the day of the game and buy a ticket. All three games we were in Florida for sold out and people were actually standing outside with their kids, trying to figure out how to get into the game. This may be different earlier in the year, or it may be different this year. I am not sure, however, that I would get on a plane and travel over 1000 miles without taking the time to purchase a ticket ahead of time. I realize that this changed only recently, that in years past it was a piece of cake. It isn’t any more.

BOOKING AIRFARE:

As previously mentioned, Port St. Lucie is in the middle of nowhere, and your options are to fly into Orlando or West Palm Beach. West Palm Beach is closer, but thanks to Disney World, Orlando is cheaper and has more flights per day, not to mention cheaper car rentals. There are, of course, going to be exceptions to that rule.

Orlando is about 2 hours north of Port St. Lucie. Assuming that you are gainfully employed and want to maximize your PTO and your Spring Training experience, there are two approaches you can take:

1) Fly out at 6 or 7 am, get to Orlando around 9 or 9:30, grab a car and get to PSL by 11 or 12. This means you will miss open workouts and will get there in time for the game. This may be amenable to you, but to me, the whole point of going to Spring Training is going to open workouts.

2) Fly out at 7pm or so, get in at 9:30, which gets you to the PSL area by 11pm or 12am. This means you can still get in a full day’s worth of Spring Training the next day. This is what we did, and I would do it again.

We carried our bags on because we did not want to add the time of waiting for baggage in Orlando in March. This meant we needed to buy sun screen and other amenities when we arrived. (More on that below.)

You have to rent a car. I mean, I guess you could stay in one of the PSL hotels and just eat at the strip malls between the hotels and the ballpark, but I think that would drive me nuts after the first day. And it still doesn’t solve how you’d actually get down to PSL.

WHERE TO STAY:

1) You can stay in Port St. Lucie. There are several hotels on the other side of the freeway. You do not need my help in locating those establishments. Needless to say, they are pricey and booked during Spring Training. If you want to stay there, book a room as soon as possible.

2) You can stay near Port St. Lucie. I found a lot of budget motels in the Fort Pierce area, which is about a 15-20 minute drive from Tradition Field. Judging by the other motel guests, we weren’t the only ones who came up with this brilliant plan. (Fort Pierce is also convenient to other Spring Training locales.) What these establishments have to offer is value. They are cheap. They are not fancy. But they will be clean, and most likely have a refrigerator and a microwave, and in some cases, free wi-fi. We knew we would be spending almost zero time in the room, so we didn’t care very much and didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a hotel.

If you do a search on “Spring Training motel NY Mets” or “Spring Training motel LA Dodgers” (because Ft. Pierce is 17 miles from Vero Beach), you will find options that you will not discover through any of the online travel sites, because it costs money to be listed in the likes of Expedia and that ilk.

We liked everything about the motel we stayed at except for the mattress, and there’s no way of knowing whether that was a problem with our room or a problem with the establishment as a whole. In any event, if you go this route, be prepared to enhance your room with some intermediate purchases (more on this later).

3) You can stay somewhere else completely because it’s a resort or a Club Med or something else that is going to be a big part of your vacation. We hate Florida so we can’t help you with that one. My sister, however, has stayed at the Club Med in PSL (not because of baseball) and liked it very much.

What about Priceline?: Although we are avid Priceliners we did not do so this time because the offerings were too odd and the zones too crazy, and we weren’t going to save enough money to make the unpredictability worthwhile.

THE FRUGAL TRAVELLER:

We knew we would need things like sunscreen and water and snacks when we arrived, and once we had the room booked, decided that we would self-cater both breakfast and lunch. This was both to save time (if you are trying to get to Port St. Lucie before 9am, do you want to get up early enough to eat, even if it is a chance to eat at Waffle House?) and money.

With a little help from the internet I discovered a 24-hour Super Wal-Mart in Fort Pierce, right off of I-95. We do not like Wal-Mart. We do not shop at Wal-Mart. For this one time, we made an exception, because it was exactly what we needed: it was on the way from the airport to the hotel, it was open late, and we were able to get everything we needed in one location. That means food, utensils, sunscreen, snacks, fruit, juice – hell, they even had soy milk. We had a list and we were in and out of the store in about 20 minutes. I cannot tell you how glad we were that we did this and unless we win the lottery soon, we will do this the next time we go to Spring Training.

The next time we go, I would add the following items to our arrival shopping list:
–Pillows (I would bring pillowcases from home)
–A cheap fleece blanket
::Budget hotels are kind of skimpy in those departments.
–Beach towels
–A throwaway styrofoam cooler (we brought our collapsable cooler bag but having another one to keep in the car is essential)

If you don’t like Wal-Mart there are plenty of grocery stores in the area, and a Target and/or CVS/Walgreens-type places around, but they’re not open 24 hours.

AN AVERAGE SPRING TRAINING DAY:

7:00: Alarm, breakfast
8:30 Get in the car
8:50 Arrive at Tradition Field.
9:00 Fields open for Open Workouts
11:00am (or earlier) Practice fields close
11-12: Nap in car
12:00: Enter Tradition Field
1:00-4pm: Game
4-5pm: Get back to motel (note: there were traffic jams all days we left.)
5-6pm: Nap, shower
7-10pm: Dinner
10-11pm: Download photos from camera, update web site
11:01pm: SLEEP.

Your mileage may vary, of course. We are usually big night owls but we were just exhausted. We had talked about going to WPB for dinner, or up to Orlando, or even just sitting outside and drinking beer in the parking lot, but the truth was that we were just too damn tired. You, however, may have more energy than we do, or may wish to make your trip less baseball-centric.

AT TRADITION FIELD:

Parking is not free. I do not remember how much it cost, and imagine someone will elaborate in the comments. Tip: if you are just coming for workouts and not staying for the game, the parking attendants will refund your money as you leave. (TBF: “Wow, that’s the only fan-friendly thing I’ve ever see the Mets do.”)

As you drive in, to your left you will see a small sign indicating the public path to the workout areas. You will likely see a group of people congregating around a gate waiting. That is where you need to go.

A security guard will give you a polite lecture about basically not being a jerk. 75% of the people will completely disregard his requests.

When the gate opens, walk as quickly as possible. To your right is the main workout field. Go to the end of the path, take a right, and then at the end of that path, another right. You will see a chain link fence with a yellow plastic pipe on the top of it. Go there as quickly as possible and stake out a space. You can leave later, but if you don’t give yourself the option initially you will regret it later, especially if you are there to take photographs.

The fence hit me just under my chin. I could barely get my arms over to get the camera focused. I imagine it is because People Are Stupid and they want to make sure no one does something dumb during workouts.

If you are there during prime time, the Mets will position themselves for workouts so the most popular players (or at least David Wright) is closest to the fans. Conversely, Carlos Beltran is buried in the middle of the group.

If you are reading this blog I imagine I don’t have to tell you that yelling at the players to come sign your ball while they are working out is completely idiotic. However, be prepared to watch 75% of the people there doing so. Another 10% will have their kids (or kids they have borrowed from someone) doing that. (I am not kidding, we watched two professional autograph hounds send three kids, only one of which appeared to belong to them, over to get signatures from various Mets.) However, the less popular Mets will be completely ignored, or people will just shove stuff in front of them to sign. If you actually know something about the team, and demonstrate that, you will be rewarded in some fashion or another.

The Mets may all take practice on that field, or they may split up onto other fields. It will depend on where you are in the preseason and how many people are there. We got to watch Carlos Delgado practicing short hops on another field while everyone else was congregated like cattle over at the other field. It was a weekday so we still managed to get a spot on the fence on the main field later. However, the 15 minutes we watched Delgado was definitely the most interesting part of the day.

How long practice lasts, and what they do during practice, again depends on what’s going on that day, where they are in the preseason, etc. We were there the last weekend of games, so they let us onto the practice fields for less than an hour. It was not like that earlier in the season, but there were so many people and there were so many people being incredibly obnoxious that I don’t blame them, really.

The minor league teams are also out in the practice complex during that time. We would definitely do more homework about the minor leaguers before we went again, and bring reference material. TBF is no scrub on this account but his memory was not functioning at full capacity at that hour of the morning.

Try to go during the week as opposed to a weekend, try to go earlier in the month as opposed to later in the month. We were there the last weekend of games and it felt like all of the Tri-State area had descended upon Florida.

If you care about the player’s cars, the lot is just adjacent to the public entrance to the workout fields. People will stand on the side of the road and wave items to be autographed and sometimes players stop. We just like watching what cars people are driving.

Be prepared for fierce competition when it comes to autographs. The professional autograph hounds are there and will do anything to get an autograph instead of you. They will push, shove, send their kids, send someone else’s kids, wear Mets jerseys when they’re not even Mets fans, etc. We care very little about autographs but did not expect it to be as bad as it was. The only autograph we got the entire time was Ron Darling (walking into Tradition Field very early one day), and that I sent to a friend. Then again, we didn’t try that hard because we were kind of disgusted by the stampede.

OTHER RANDOM TIPS:

–It will be warm, but it might rain for a little while when you are at the games or out in the practice fields. You may want to bring a poncho or a towel, depending on how much it bothers you to be wet.

–I can’t stress the sunscreen enough.

–There is a shopping center just down the street from Tradition Field, with an Outback and some other restaurants, as well as an indoor entertainment complex (bowling, mini-golf, etc.) If you have seen the Mets Weekly with Wright and Lo Duca bowling, it was shot there. You can find players there from time to time, especially earlier in the season.

–Read the Spring Training blogs written by the beat reporters. You will get tips about where to eat, what to do, etc. We had a wonderful dinner at a place called the Dolphin Bar because of something Adam Rubin wrote in one of his blogs.

My Spring Training photo sets from 2007 are here, here and here.

Have a great time!

xo
MG

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