If you are a fan of great weather and the crack of a bat, mid-February through early April is the ideal time for a trip to Tampa Bay, Florida, to witness Spring Training. Here, during this time, you can get an up-close look at the boys of summer and maybe even get an autograph or two. Tampa Bay is home to spring training for the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays. The teams training facilities are all within a short drive of each other, so on one vacation you easily could visit all three ballparks. In fact, there are nine major league baseball teams that train within a two-hour drive of the Tampa Bay area (many others train out in Arizona).
New York Yankees
The Yankees train in Tampa and play at George M. Steinbrenner Field, located just minutes from Tampa International Airport. The complex is a sprawling 31 acres, and seats 11,026. There are six concession stands on the main concourse serving typical fare like hot dogs, burgers, beer, pizza, nachos, and Italian ice.
Where to buy tickets: George M. Steinbrenner Box Office, or online.
Stay: There are dozens of hotels in and around Tampa. The Epicurean is the ideal place to stay if you are traveling with someone who doesn’t love baseball as much as you do. Located less than five miles from the ballpark, this property has a 40-seat culinary theater that offers a variety of food and wine classes, complimentary WiFi, an outdoor pool, a fitness center, Elevage restaurant, Edge rooftop bar, and the Evangeline Spa. You literally can eat, stay, and play all under one roof.
Eat: All in the same convenient location along Bay Street, you will find a variety of food and drink including Zen Bistro and Sushi, The Cheesecake Factory, Capital Grille, Blue Martini, Brio Tuscan Grille, California Pizza Kitchen, and Gelateria del Duomo.
Play: There are a number of museums and activities within a short drive of the stadium. The International Plaza and Bay Street, adjacent to the airport, is a little more than two miles from the park. It is one of the preeminent shopping and dining destinations on Florida’s west coast, with more than 200 specialty shops and an open-air village of fine dining restaurants and boutiques.
Viewfinder Tip: Get to games early for the best chance at interacting with your favorite players (and nabbing autographs).
Phillies fans watch their team prepare for the season at Brighthouse Field in Clearwater. The stadium has 7,300 fixed seats with grass berm that seats an additional 1,500. The food court, located behind home plate, serves the usual ballpark fare. The open-air Frenchy’s Tiki Hut knocks it out of the park by serving up adult libations at café style tables. You’ll want to meander along the 360-degree concourse, where you can check out the field from every angle.
Where to buy tickets: You can buy and even manage your tickets online, or you can buy tickets at the Brighthouse Field box office.
Stay: There are several hotels on the main drag, near the stadium, but this area tends to be a bit loud and chaotic. Instead, we suggest you stay along the award-winning Clearwater Beach, where there are a number of great hotels in all price ranges. To get to the ballpark from here, you can either rent a car, or take the Phillies Shuttle (reservations are required).
Eat: You can’t go to a Phillies spring training game without having breakfast at Lenny’s. The folks who run this eatery are huge fans, and the diner-style restaurant is decorated with Phillies memorabilia–right down to the authentic stadium seats out front. The place serves up everything from pancakes and omelets to soups and sandwiches. If you’re craving seafood, Clearwater Beach has some of the best on Florida’s west coast.
Play: Beside baseball and the beach, Clearwater has other tourist attractions, too. You can take in a show at the newly renovated Capitol Theater downtown; take a day-trip to near by Tarpon Springs, home of the sponge docks; play a round of golf at Innisbrook Resort, one of the top golf vacation destinations in the United States; or visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter the Dolphin.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays have held their spring training in Dunedin since the team’s inception in 1977. Games take place at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, which is located about a mile from downtown. The Blue Jays are the only team of the three mentioned that hold their practices at a location somewhere other than the main ballpark. With seats for only 5,509, this stadium it is the smallest of any in the region. That means watching a game there as a spectator gives the place a cozy, authentic feel. You’ll sing not one but two national anthems at a Blue Jays game; since the team is from Canada, Canadian and American anthems are sung before every contest. They have all the expected ballpark eats here, but the grill behind home plate is known for pulled pork and baked beans. To wash it down, they have Labatt Blue on hand (of course).
Where to buy tickets: At the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium box office or online.
Stay: Downtown Dunedin is just a mile and an easy walk from the stadium. Our favorite hotel in the region is the Meranova Guest Inn, where each suite is distinctively different with private entrances, porches or balconies, private baths, and fully appointed kitchenettes. Another perk: the on-site food. Wake up every morning with a gourmet breakfast delivered to your suite or served al fresco under the gazebo, poolside, in the orchid garden, or on your porch or balcony.
Eat: Eating in the Dunedin area is a treat; there are so many choices with every variety and ethnic flavor represented from. The Living Room on Main is a must for brunch with outdoor dining and live entertainment and The Candy Bar Sweets and Treats will take you back with its retro candies and artisan chocolates.
Play: Dunedin is a very pedestrian-friendly downtown, with dozens of shops and eateries. There also is the Pinellas Trail, a bike path that spans the county and runs right through the center of town. You will almost always find some kind of festival or arts-and-crafts fair going on. There also is a farmers’ market every Friday and Saturday during the season.
What are your favorite Spring Training vacation rituals?