Baseball is more than just a sport in the United States. It doesn't get called the "national pastime" for nothing. The sport dates back past the mid-1800s, and many of the most famous teams in Major League Baseball (MLB) are well over 100 years old. (The oldest? The Cincinnati Reds, which were started in 1869.)
So it makes sense that even spring training, which players report to today, is a big deal. This preseason has its own leagues, its own stadiums, and even its own set of devoted fans! Because most of the country is locked in the chill of winter, all 30 MLB teams come to two of America's warmest states, Florida and Arizona, to hold their camps. It's like a working vacation... for some of the players, at least!
A time for fun... or a chance to prove yourself
For the stars, it's a time to ease back into top notch playing form. Players like Josh Donaldson, Mike Trout, or Kris Bryant know that they're on the team. But for many other players, these next two months are a time for them to prove to their managers that they belong on the team. For these guys, their spring training performance can be the difference between being a key part of a club's bench... or spending the year "on the farm" (this means you play on the Triple A squad and wait for another chance).
So while the games don't count for anything once the season starts for real, there is still plenty of drama to follow. Who will make the cut? Considering that about half of the players who report to spring training won't make the big club on opening day, these games do matter a lot to many players.
Grapefruit and Cactus
During the regular season, MLB is split up into two leagues—the American and the National. Spring training has two leagues as well—Grapefruit League in Florida and the Cactus League in Arizona. Teams play around 25 to 32 games each.
Almost every team has its own unique stadium to play in in these spring training locations. It makes these places a home away from home for each club. For example, the Toronto Blue Jays have played spring training in Dunedin, Florida since the club was formed in 1977. This means that over a thousand miles away, the Jays have a little pocket of fans. Neat!
What does it all mean?
Do the best teams in spring training turn out to be the best teams during the season? In a word, no. The World Series Champion Chicago Cubs went 11 wins and 19 losses last year, while six more of the other 10 playoff teams also had losing records. (In fact, only Washington, Texas, and Toronto had winning records in spring training and made it to the playoffs.)
But in a way, that's part of spring training's appeal. The games are cheap, the crowds are small, the weather is beautiful, and (mostly) everyone is having fun playing or watching a game they love. What's not to love about that?
Let's play ball, folks!