The History of Baseball’s Spring Training

GRAEME GALLAGHER | SPORTS CORRESPONDENT

With the NFL season drawn to a close after that exciting Super Bowl, along with basketball and hockey starting their postseasons soon, it’s hard to find another sport to get excited about. However, the end of these seasons mark the beginning of another. That’s right, baseball is back!  As of last week, all teams and players have reported to spring training.

But what is spring training and what purpose does it serve for baseball? Well, simply put, spring training is a way for players and teams to get prepared for the upcoming season.  Just as in football, where they have preseason games, spring training is a series of exhibition games and practices. Teams use the games to gauge new and younger players. Essentially, spring training is a tryout for who will make the major league roster.

The idea of spring training began all the way back in the 1890s with Albert Spalding, President of the Chicago White Stockings. Spalding realized he needed a way to get his players ready for the season but that wasn’t possible in Chicago because of the weather. So he took his team and traveled to Hot Springs, Ark., which is now considered the birthplace of spring training.

Soon, more and more teams traveled south to conduct spring training. The Boston Red Sox and Brooklyn Dodgers joined the White Stockings in Hot Springs. The St. Louis Cardinals went to Tulsa, Okla.and the Pittsburgh Pirates went all the way to Honolulu, Hawaii to practice. The Detroit Tigers are credited with conducting the first spring training camp in Arizona and the Philadelphia Phillies were the first team in Fla., which are the two main spots for spring training today.

In 1915, the group of teams that moved to Fla. for spring training created the Grapefruit League. In 1945, Bill Veeck purchased the Cleveland Indians and moved them to Ariz. to join the Tigers for spring training. Veeck persuaded more teams to come to Ariz. and created the Cactus League. Both the Cactus League and the Grapefruit League still play today and each league consists of 15 teams.

The spring training schedule starts the first week of March and teams play a total of 37 games. However, these games are very different than regular season games. For example, these games allow managers to try out new players and give them opportunities to show what they can do.  Because of this, managers tend to make a lot of substitutions throughout the game. Many times, the big name players won’t play for the whole game and will only play for a couple innings until they get subbed out. Another difference is that the games aren’t played as hard. Winning the league does not mean anything when it comes down to the regular season. Teams do not get a reward or bonus for winning. This doesn’t mean that players won’t try their hardest, but they will be cautious in order to avoid injury before the regular season starts.  Another big difference is that many teams split the roster up into 2 squads and send both squads out to play against different teams. For example, the Brewers might split their squad up one day and send one team to play against the Chicago Cubs and the other to play against the Dodgers. This way, they can maximize the amount of players participating and teams can start to gauge which players they want for the regular season.

Baseball’s spring training is a very exciting time for the sport. Fans get their first look at their team and its new prospects, and they can start to get ready for the season themselves. Spring training this year is just the beginning of what looks to be another great baseball season.

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