It’s Dec. 2, it’s snowing in Texas, and my street in Hampshire, Illinois, has more Christmas lights than street lights, but you know what I’m thinking about?
This is a tough time of year for major league baseball fans because almost nothing is happening. But if you check out your favorite Major League Baseball team’s website, you’ll probably find the spring training schedule, and now’s the time to plan a trip!
Chicago fans — both Cubs and Sox — spend March in Arizona, where both teams have spring training facilities. But Minnesota Twins fans flock to Fort Myers, Florida, to watch games in the intimate Lee County Sports Complex.
I’ve been to spring training games for six of the past seven years. I love watching spring training baseball games! You get to see your favorite players close up, and the weather in Florida in March is full of sunshine and warmth.
Twins spring training begins March 4 this year, and now’s the time to plan a trip using those frequent flier miles … or selling plasma for tickets … or whatever it takes. Here are some tips:
Where to stay: Fort Myers is a sprawling town — a long way from one end to the other. So get a map and choose a hotel or campground nearer to the Twins stadium. One year, I stayed in a bed and breakfast in downtown Fort Myers, and that was nice (and reasonably priced), but it was sort of far from the stadium.
Where to eat: The restaurants in that town are decidedly mass market. You can find all the standard brand names and any kind of food. I can’t think of a can’t-miss restaurant but there is a diner in a railcar type setup that’s nice for breakfast (but offers standard food). The best thing you can do is buy fresh citrus to enjoy (there are orchards and road-side stands) — it’s delicious.
Stuff to do besides baseball: There is great shopping in Fort Myers. Miromar Outlet Mall (south of Fort Myers on Corkscrew Road at Interstate 75) is a great place to spend the better part of a day. There are bunches of other options, too, including Tanger Outlet on Summerlin Road. There are a ton of golf courses in the Fort Myers area, so I’m sure you could find something very nice, but I hate golfing so I’m not a good one to recommend anything. As for the beach, Fort Myers beach is not so nice. It’s crowded and kind of dirty. Go to Sanibel Island instead. Even if you just drive around Sanibel, it’s worth the trip (it’s a toll road, so bring some change). I ran 9 miles around the island one time (when I was training for the marathon) and that was cool, but I think they have bike rentals, too. There are some nice, unique restaurants on Sanibel, so if you’re there at meal time, that’s cool.
Twins games: Now, about the Twins. Go early! The home games start at 1:05 p.m. Show up at 10 a.m., and you can see batting practice, pitching practice and lots of other goings-on up close. You can wander around, check out the grounds and see who’s playing where (there are a lot of practice fields). I sat in the bleachers one year with Tom Kelly. We could hear him talking. It was cool — definitely worth going early. Buy a program — it’s cheap, and you’ll have time to read it.
Getting autographs: There’s a walkway to the left of the entrance to the stadium — that’s where you can get autographs as the players walk from the fields to the locker room (usually about an hour before the game). If you want autographs, bring something to sign and a Sharpie pen. You have to be aggressive, and players usually sign stuff for kids and women with cleavage first so don’t be disappointed if you can’t get an autograph. You may also be able to get autographs after the game, when the players leave the stadium in their cars. If you hang out near the exit of the player parking lot, and the player is willing to stop, you might be able to coax an autograph out of them. Again, cleavage helps.
Buying tickets: If you like sunshine, get third-base seats up front (they cost something like $22 each — really reasonable). Dress cool and wear a hat and sunglasses, because it can get hot (but it’s wonderful to be hot in March if you came from a place where the streets are snow covered). If you don’t like sun, get seat toward the “back” of the stadium. You’ll still be really close (compared to the Metrodome) ,and you’ll get shade there. I’ve gotten tickets in advance, from the website, and I’ve gotten tickets on site from a scalper. It’s worked well both ways. Unless they’re playing the Yankees or the Red Sox, you can almost certainly find scalped tickets. One year, I bought tickets at Twins Fest in late January (when it was at the Dome — I don’t know what they’ll do this year) — even that worked out great.
Etc.: Speaking of the Red Sox, they have a stadium in Fort Myers, too. I’ve never been there (because Red Sox fans are crazy), but I would guess you might want tickets in advance if you decide to go there one day. Do not leave the game early. You never know what will happen or who will come into the game, so don’t go home just because they’re behind. Traffic is sort of a pain when you leave, so don’t be in any hurry, but it’s still worth waiting until the end.
Well, that’s it — all the advice I have. I hope you have tons of fun if you go, and I hope that the Twins win (but it doesn’t really matter in spring training). If the weather is nice (and I’ve always had good weather when I was there), you’ll have a great time.