There’s a magnetism to spring training.
Fans of all ages from all corners of the world are drawn to the sun soaked ballparks of Florida and Arizona to watch Major League Baseball’s preseason.
It’s a unique force, one that blends optimism and expectations for a season before it’s been weighed down by setbacks with a chance to experience moments in the company of both those who share your passion, and baseball heroes.
“It’s a very different feel than the regular season,” said Tony Delcavo, a Denver Colorado native and lifelong Detroit Tigers fan attending spring training for the 11th year in a row. “It’s a lot more informal; you get to talk to the players. It’s a small crowd, it’s much more intimate.”
That intimacy is felt the moment you step through the gates.
You can spot it in the smiles of fans as they wait in winding lines for selfies and autographs. You can hear it in the laughs of families as generations sit side by side in the stands. And you can see it worn on the faces of kids as they lean over railings to reach for runaway balls.
It’s simple, and magical, and just romantic enough to serve as a reminder for why baseball has been America’s Game for well-over a century.
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise then that so many fans have turned these six weeks — bridging the gap between spring and summer — into an annual tradition.
Hy Safran, a Royal Oak, Michigan, resident and self proclaimed ‘most obsessed’ Tigers fan, has only missed two of the last 13 spring trainings.
“Hope springs eternal at spring training,” Safran said with a smile, just steps away from the scoreboard at Publix Field in Lakeland, Florida.
His family has had Tigers’ season tickets for 77 years and he’s the first to half-jokingly admit that he engages with players to an almost comedic, if not worrisome extent.
But being able to interact with those heroes you cheer for 162 times a year is part of what makes spring training so special.
“It’s unique because players are accessible,” Safran said. “There’s access for the fans, fans from all over the country.”
Spring training stadiums are a fraction of the size of Major League ballparks. The smaller venue lends itself to the kind of intimate interactions Safran speaks so fondly of, and like those venues, it’s the smaller moments that best illustrate what makes these six weeks so special.
Look in a boy’s eyes as he turns back to his mother after getting his ball signed, or a young girl climbing on to her father’s shoulders to steal a better view, or that married couple from Minnesota holding hands in the stands for the 50th straight summer.
That’s where the real magic resides.
For six weeks every year under the Florida sun, the intimacy and optimism of spring training puts the rest of the world on pause to bring fans and families closer to not only the players, but to each other as well.