Florida's spring training dates back to the early years of the twentieth century — beginning with an exhibition game in 1908 between the Cincinnati Reds and the semi-pro St. Petersburg Saints. In 1913, the Chicago Cubs arrived in Tampa at the invitation of Mayor D.B. McKay... and, this is where we say the rest is history. Florida's springtime would never again be without the sights and sounds of America's favorite pastime.
On February 19, Tampa's Plant Field — just north of the elegant and luxurious Tampa Bay Hotel (presently the University of Tampa) was the sight of the Cubs first spring training workouts. A week later, the first game of a three-game series against the Cubs and a team of Cuban stars, the Havana Athletics drew the largest crowd ever to witness a sporting event in Tampa Bay. The Chicago Cubs went on to sweep that series.
Only two major league baseball teams trained in Florida in 1913 — the Cubs in Tampa and the Cleveland Indians in Pensacola. By the next year, baseball had doubled its presence in Florida with the Chicago Cubs in Tampa, the St. Louis Browns in St. Petersburg, the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Augustine and Philadelphia Athletics in Jacksonville. Soon, nearly every Florida city was vying to lure major league ball clubs, just as they did tourists and winter residents.
The St. Louis Browns did not return to St. Petersburg in 1915, but the Philadelphia Phillies made it their spring home. When they won all but one of their first 15 games and went on to win the National League pennant, it all but sealed St. Petersburg's and Florida's reputation as an extraordinary training ground. It was around this time that the Grapefruit League took shape.
In all, thirty-five different Florida sites have held spring training. The cities with the most years of spring training are: St. Petersburg and Tampa, 89 years; Bradenton and Clearwater, 78 years; Lakeland, 77 years; Sarasota, 76 years; Fort Myers, 66 years; West Palm Beach, 65 years; Orlando, 64 years; Vero Beach, 60 years; and, Winter Haven, 57 years.* In fact, in 2011, Lakeland celebrated 75 years with the Detroit Tigers — the longest lasting relationship between a current host city and a major league baseball team.
An impressive 49 of those years have been spent at the same stadium — Joker Marchant Stadium. In addition, there is one spring training location, Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, that hosts two teams — St. Louis Cardinals & Miami Marlins. It is the only facility in Florida specially designed to house two major league teams.
As of 2016, Florida's Grapefruit League Spring Training includes the following teams and locations:
- Atlanta Braves - Disney World
- Baltimore Orioles - Sarasota
- Boston Red Sox - Fort Myers
- Detroit Tigers - Lakeland
- Houston Astros - Kissimmee
- Miami Marlins - Jupiter
- Minnesota Twins - Fort Myers
- New York Mets - Port St. Lucie
- New York Yankees - Tampa
- Philadelphia Phillies - Clearwater
- Pittsburg Pirates - Bradenton
- St. Louis Cardinals - Jupiter
- Tampa Bay Rays - Port Charlotte
- Toronto Blue Jays - Dunedin
- Washington Nationals - Vierra
- Tickets to some spring training games sell out in advance. Do not depend on buying tickets at the ballpark box office on the day of the game without calling first.
- Ticket options vary per team and location (check each teams individual spring training site for details). Save money by purchasing season tickets or two-for, four-for, or six-for ticket plans. Most of these allow you to pick the two, four or six games you would like to attend; although some are only available for certain stated games.
- All-you-can-eat tickets where available will also save money. Variations do occur according to the ballpark, but most include a reserved seat, hotdogs, popcorn, nachos, fountain drinks and bottled water.
- Most ballparks will not allow personal coolers, backpacks, glass bottles, food, cans or weapons.
- Most ballparks allow small umbrellas, blankets for berm seating and cameras.
- Most ballparks do adhere to some type of security check at the entrance gate.
*According to Florida's Grapefruit League History by Raymond Arsenault.