If it’s March, it’s America’s Pastime (Baseball) going strong in Arizona and Florida
For those suffering through a harsh winter in the Midwest and East Coast, spring training offers an escape and a chance to literally thaw out.
Baseball fans flock to Arizona and Florida in March and this year—with unprecedented cold and snow blanketing much of the country—baseball attendance for games that prepare teams for the regular season may set a record. The last two years, the Cactus League, which is a collection of 15 and American League and National League teams within 45 minutes of each other in the Phoenix area, drew crowds totaling more than 1.7 million.
With the nationally popular Chicago Cubs opening their new stadium in Mesa, AZ this year, the Cubs have already surpassed the previous record crowds on numerous occasions and counting. Some 70 percent of the fans come to Arizona from out of state and many stay five to seven days.
“Right now, everything is very encouraging, and I’ll be disappointed if we don’t set a record,” says Mark Coronado, the president of the Cactus League. “It’s a combination of the (Cubs new park) and the weather up on the East Coast and Midwest. We’ve had great weather with 80 degree days and blue skies.”
Among those making the annual pilgrimage to Arizona is Chicago native Frank Nolimal who now resides in Las Vegas and has been going to games since 1973. Nolimal, 61, an employee benefits consultant meets up with his three brothers, Chick, who comes in from Southern California and Don and Dave who fly in from Chicago. He says it’s great for his two brothers with the brutal winter in Chicago.
“It’s a great way to see old-fashioned baseball,” Nolimal says. “I get to see the Cubs and my brothers, and we make a family thing out of it of watching baseball in the day and (the college basketball) tourney at night.”
Tickets start as low as $8 for lawn seats in the outfield and reach as high as $35 to $40 for seats near the dugout. Fans say it’s great to watch games for less than $20 when major league games may cost $60 to $70 or more.
Not only are the ticket prices attractive, but it’s the tradition and childhood memories that sell spring baseball, Coronado says. It’s a lighter side of baseball where players are more accessible and fans appreciate it.
“The average visitor to Cactus League games is 53.5, and the trend in recent years is grandfathers bringing their grandchildren to the games,” Coronado says. “The age group at most major league games falls between 35 and 45, he says.”
“I think the allure is the national pastime,” Coronado says. “It touches all of us in our own special way. For a lot of us, baseball is reminiscent about a piece of our fabric that says I grew up with that sport and I don’t want to lose that memory.”
Some enjoy the spring training atmosphere so much that they move to Arizona and live near their favorite teams. Others like Mary Lou Youngblood, 54, decide to buy a home a half-mile from a spring training stadium in Surprise, AZ that lets her watch her favorite team, the Texas Rangers. A Texas A&M graduate where she played softball, Youngblood, an executive search consultant, says she attends about five to six games a year.
“I have always wanted to live in a place where they have spring training teams,” says Youngblood. “I sit in the grass and hang out and get some sun. It’s a relaxing time. You see a lot of young talent, and it’s fun to watch.”