A Brief History of American Baseball’s Spring Training

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Many Americans view the start of baseball season as a sign that spring is on its way or has already come, and there is no better sign that baseball season is starting than Major League Baseball’s spring training. Every March, major league baseball players gather at their team’s spring training sites, with half of the teams training and playing in Florida {the Grapefruit League}, while the other half play in Arizona (the Cactus League). Spring training lasts until the end of March, when teams say goodbye to their springtime homes and head back to their home cities to start the season.

The Early Days of Spring Training

Spring training is almost as old as pro baseball itself. It’s not clear exactly when teams began to travel south and west to train for spring, but it is known to have become popular in the late 1800’s. Even as early as 1870, the Cincinnati Red Stockings (known as the Reds today) and the Chicago White Stockings (known as the White Sox), held a springtime baseball camp in New Orleans. In 1889, the Washington Nationals began training in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1913, the Chicago Cubs began training in Tampa while the St. Louis Browns started their training in St. Petersburg. Soon the Grapefruit League was born.

Spring Training during the Years of World War II

During World War II, Americans sacrificed many of their usual luxuries for the good of the American war effort. Baseball, which had become “the National Pastime” by this point, was no different. There were even more than 500 baseball players who served in World War II, including Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Joe DiMaggio.  So many players were called on to serve their country that minor league baseball was cancelled during World War Ii and, while major league teams still trained in spring, they did it closer to their homes so that trains could be used to transport the troops on their way overseas.

Spring Training in the Modern Era

A map of teams that train in Florida and those that train in Arizona.

After the War baseball was as popular as ever and in 1947 the sport became intergrated, allowing black players to play alongside white players. Since many Southern states, including Florida, enforced “Jim Crow” Laws (laws that enforced racial segregation), some teams decided to move to Arizona, where there were no such laws. Today spring training is a rite of spring all over the U.S., with fans making the pilgramage to watch their favorite teams get ready for the season, while catching some rays of sunshiine at the same time.

Spring Training Fun Facts

  • In the late 1800’s, some teams used spring training to go on barnstorming (giving shows in rural areas) of the southern states like Mississippi, Georgia, and Missouri
  • Legendary Manager Whitey Ford once said of spring training: “The way to make coaches think you are in shape in the spring is to get a tan.”
  • Milwaukee Brewers Manager Doug Melvin was stung by a scorpion while having dinner with his wife near the Brewers’ Arizona training camp
  • In 2015, Actor Will Ferrell raised $1 million for charity by playing ten different positions for ten teams in the Cactus League

Sources

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