Each week, Yahoo Travel pits rival destinations against each other to determine once and for all which one is the best. Up this week are the two states that host spring training baseball: Arizona and Florida.
The Case for Arizona, by Bill Fink
Arizona is perhaps the perfect place to go catch some spring training baseball. The weather is near-perfect, the stadiums are close together, and it has the non-baseball bonuses of spectacular scenery, ethnic foods, and exposure to Native American and Hispanic cultures. In Florida, you’ll get an oppressively humid, staggeringly spread-out, and culturally vacant theme park atmosphere for the games. It’s no wonder that the Dodgers, Indians, Rangers, and Royals abandoned Florida in the past decade to play their spring ball in the “Valley of the Sun.” Arizona in springis so nice even the Cubs fans can remain optimistic.
League name: Cactus League. The cactus is a noble, gritty plant, surviving decades in the hot desert sun with spikes to protect itself. Florida’s league is named for the favorite breakfast fruit of toothless old men.
Hunter Pence and the defending champion San Francisco Giants are among the teams to play in Arizona. (Photo: Rob Tringali/Getty Images)
Number of teams: Fifteen, including both teams in the last World Series, the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals. Also, the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Anaheim (or whatever) Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers. Multiple teams share facilities, so if you’re a big Ohio fan, you can catch the Reds and the Indians on consecutive days in the same place.
Does Alex Rodriguez play here? No!
Scottsdale Stadium, home to the Giants. (Photo: Rob Tringali/Getty Images)
Number of stadiums: Ten baseball stadiums in close proximity, all within an hour’s drive from each other, unlike Florida, where the parks are spread all over the state like they were blown around by one of Florida’s regular hurricanes. In Arizona, the shortest drive time between parks is about five minutes. You could easily catch the Cubs’ morning practice at Mesa’s Sloan Park, then head to see the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium for an afternoon game, and conclude with a trek to Glendale’s Camelback Ranch to catch the hated White Sox or Dodgers in an evening matchup. In Florida, however, a typical multigame travel day would have you leave a game in a rush for a three-hour cross-state trek and immediately get rear-ended by a clueless local driver, after which point you’d fly home in disgust.
For a dose of history, fans can visit the Arizona Spring Training Experience and Cactus League Hall of Fame’s three exhibits on view throughout Arizona. (Photo: Arizona Spring Training Experience and Cactus League Hall of Fame)
Fan experience: Attendance at Arizona spring training games was nearly 1.7 million in 2014, with numbers expected to rise this season. New stadium complexes have been sprouting in Arizona like flowers on a desert cactus after a spring rain (but with less peyote). The opening of the new Cubs Park last season saw their crowds regularly topping 14,000, record numbers for spring training. This year, the A’s moved into their renovated Hohokam Stadium. Outside of the ballparks, fans can follow 70 years of Arizona spring training history and rich memorabilia collections by walking the Cactus League Legacy Trail, which includes stops at a museum, a library, and a surprising number of bars boasting many player visits during their alleged “training” regimen.
Arizona’s desert climate means it will be warm, but dry and pleasant. (Photo: Getty Images)
Weather: “It’s a dry heat” is practically the state motto of Arizona. Pleasant spring temperatures in 70s and sunshine are the perfect combo for enjoying a day in the stands. Whereas in the oppressive humidity of Florida, either the game will be rained out or you’ll be stewing in your own sweat in the sun for nine innings.
These fellas might seem cute, but we don’t recommed trying to make friends. (Photo: George H.H. Huey / Alamy)
Wild animals: Arizona is best known for its charmingly incompetent coyotes and cheeky roadrunners. But of course the most notable wild animals in Arizona are those wacky llamas of #LlamaDrama fame. In Florida, gators rule the landscape and regularly devour both players and spectators. The Florida state bird is the mosquito.
Actor Will Ferrell plays with the Seattle Mariners as part of his comedy appearance in Arizona this year. (Photo: Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Celebrity guest star: This month, Will Ferrell awesomely joined 10 teams in Arizona to play nine positions in five Cactus League games in one day in his #FerrellTakesTheField comedy/charity effort. In Florida, the mummified body of Billy Crystal showed up to Yankees camp a few years ago to strike out. Like most of Crystal’s efforts, it wasn’t funny.
While you’re in Arizona, take a trip out to the Grand Canyon. (Photo: Getty Images)
Day trips: In the Scottsdale area near the parks, you can relax with golfing, spas, and fancy rooms in some top-end resorts like the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa, and the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia. Also nearby, the Hermosa Inn and the retro Hotel Valley Ho feature some good spring training specials. Once you leave town, in Arizona, you can drive a few hours from a game through the cool hills of Flagstaff to experience the majesty of the Grand Canyon, or visit the mystical rocks of Sedona. In Florida, once you leave the park, you’ll likely get swallowed into the muck of one of a dozen different mega-swamps. Advantage, Arizona.
The Case for Florida, by Greg Keraghosian
Florida spring training combines a number of great teams and palm trees. (Photo: Leon Halip/Getty Images)
It’s not hard to imagine why Florida has been a spring training destination since 1888, when the Washington Capitals held a four-game camp in Jacksonville. This is the perfect time to be in the Sunshine State: The weather is mild at around 80 degrees with less humidity, there are no hurricanes in sight, the seafood is fresh and abundant, and the world-class beaches are a picture of tranquility. And oh, yes, there’s baseball, too. In Florida, you can easily catch a couple of games within driving distance in one day, then cool off by dunking yourself in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic. In Arizona, you can cool off by retreating into the nearest shopping mall.
Bright House Field in Clearwater has a 360-degree concourse, and picnic space in the outfield. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
League name: Grapefruit League, dating to 1914, well before those Johnny-come-latelies in Arizona. What would you rather be named after: a refreshing, nutritious fruit loaded with vitamins? Or a prickly, ugly plant?
Mookie Betts and the Boston Red Sox make their spring training home at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. (Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Number of teams: Fifteen, including some of baseball’s most historic and high-profile teams: the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, and Atlanta Braves. It may just be spring training, but games involving the Yankees and the Red Sox can create a regular-season atmosphere.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a marina in Arizona, but there are lots in Florida, including Dunedin Marina. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
Does Alex Rodriguez play here? Heck, yes! And who wouldn’t want to see baseball’s greatest villain in person? Especially when he’s actually having a productive spring training?
Roger Dean Stadium, home to the Cardinals and Marlins. (Photo: Roger Dean Stadium/Facebook)
Number of stadiums: Fourteen, with Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter as the home of the Cardinals and the Marlins. While it’s true that the stadiums in Florida are more dispersed than in Arizona, they’re not that spread out: The greatest distance between two spring training cities is the 217 miles between Dunedin’s Blue Jays on the Gulf Coast and Jupiter on the Atlantic. Stay in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area and you’ll have six ballparks less than an hour’s drive away.
Frenchy’s Tiki Bar at Britght House Field is a fan favorite before, during, and even after the game. (Photo: TripAdvisor)
Fan experience: Florida has some very old connections with its teams, including the oldest spring training home to a city in baseball: the Detroit Tigers have belonged to Lakeland for 79 years. The Phillies have been in Clearwater for 69 years, and they play in a magnificent venue: Bright House Field, which has a 360-degree concourse, authentic Philly cheesesteaks, and Frenchy’s, a tiki hut that stays open for two hours after the game. The Baltimore Orioles have the renovated Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, which includes seats refurbished from Oriole Park in Camden Yards and Maryland crab soup at Café 54. The Tampa Bay Rays’ springtime digs, Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla., was named the No. 1 spring training facility by USA Today readers in 2014.
This would be a good time to mention that as a lifelong San Francisco Giants fan, I’m like a soldier fighting against his brother in the Civil War on this one. I’ve been to Scottsdale, Ariz., for spring training, as any good Giants fan will do. Even though Scottsdale during spring break is like an episode of Jersey Shore without the shore. You’ll find fewer wet T-shirt contests in a place like Clearwater, but more relaxation.
Florida is all about the sun, sand, and beaches, so expect appropriately tropical weather. (Photo: Getty Images)
Weather: Average temperatures in most spring training cities hover around the high 70s to 80 degrees, with less humidity than in summer. There’s rain, but it usually falls fast, so you won’t have your day spoiled. I sat uncovered in the stands at Scottsdale Stadium two years ago, and no matter how much anyone told me about the dry heat, I had to retreat for shade by the fourth inning.
Dolphins jumping and swimming in the gulf are a common sight. (Photo: Getty Images)
Wild animals: Did someone say dolphins? They’re all over the Gulf Coast, and you can take a boat tour to spot them up close. Or if you’d rather find some wildlife you can eat, there’s fishing throughout Florida. I’ll take those options over Wile E. Coyote in Arizona any day.
The Phillie Phanatic, America’s No. 1 baseball mascot, makes his rounds at Bright House Field. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
Celebrity guest star: Watch the Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater and you can goof around with the most famous mascot in baseball, the Phillie Phanatic. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians of Arizona’s Cactus League have whatever this thing is.
Stop by Florida’s oldest craft brewery for some yummy pub grub and, of course, a few beers. (Photo: TripAdvisor)
Day trips: If you’re staying around the Gulf Coast, Dunedin is a chilled-out beach town founded by Scots, with the oldest microbrewery in Florida (granted it only opened in 1996). On the east coast, visit Jupiter and you can watch Cardinals and Marlins games in the same stadium, then unwind at the Jupiter Beach Resort and Spa. The Braves (Lake Buena Vista) and Astros (Kissimmee) play just southwest of Orlando, so you can enjoy some Disney magic with your baseball on the same day. And which highly rated beach would you rather drive out to on the west coast? There’s St. Pete Beach, Fort De Soto Park, Clearwater Beach, Honeymoon Island, and a whole lot more.