As DC braces for a nor’easter, I am relaxing in West Palm Beach where it’s a balmy seventy-nine degrees. Talk about great timing! That is the true benefit of Spring Training: avoiding winter weather. This is my second year making this trip in mid-to-late March, and I have enjoyed it both times. Whether you are coming within the next week or are considering making the trip in 2019, here are five tips I have to make your vacation more enjoyable:
ProTip #1: Buy Tickets Early
Ticket prices go up and sections sell out the closer you get to your chosen dates. We bought a little late this year, and paid for it. (Literally.) It’s best to buy soon after you finalize travel plans.
ProTip #2: Get to the Ballpark Early
Last year, the Nationals had valet parking available at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. This year, the fam and I rolled up at 12:50 with our $20 out and were informed that option is no longer available. Since the game began at 1:05, we did not make it on time. The $10 parking at the ballpark is great for those of you trying to rack up the step count on your FitBit. By the time you reach the ballpark after the 3/4-mile walk (so it seems) you are sweaty and reconsidering every life decision that brought you to this point. They do offer small, golf cart-like shuttles for the elderly and those who are having a really tough time.
In all seriousness, get there early because it takes awhile to park. You also might want to peruse the gift shop or get some concessions before the game and lines can be long. They do have some nice merchandise in the team store, which the Nationals share with the Houston Astros. It’s a nice little store, though I am not sure whether they honor the season plan holder discounts.
ProTip #3: SUNSCREEN
However much sunscreen you bring with you, go to CVS and double it. To quote my dad, “The sun always wins.” Reapply halfway through the game. The scoreboard will tell you to reapply your sunscreen in the 5th inning. Listen to the scoreboard.
ProTip #4: There Are No Bad Seats
Every seat at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches has its pros and cons. I like sitting near home plate because it’s much closer to the game than you can get at a major league ballpark. However, those seats offer no reprieve from the sun. (See: ProTip #3) There are seats further away beneath an overhang and the shade is a huge benefit. Eighty degrees in DC is not the same as eighty degrees in Florida. The grassy outfield area is great for families with small children, or anyone who wants to lie out on a beach towel and perhaps catch a home run ball. There seems to be a seat for every preference.
ProTip #5: Make Plans to Explore the Area
When my dad and I first thought about going down to Spring Training, we considered getting one of the all-inclusive packages offered by both the Nationals and the Cardinals. This includes hotel, air fare, rental car, etc. It also promises a dinner with select players and coaching staff, along with some other perks. The problem is, it locks you in. You have a set schedule, you have a set dinner, set rental car and flight, etc.
If that’s the experience you want, then perhaps the package lifestyle is for you. My dad and I knew it wasn’t what we wanted. Instead, we chose our own hotel, our own games to attend, and our own seats. It’s the sort of freedom which allows you to make this trip about more than baseball. Don’t make it the end-all be-all of your time down here in West Palm Beach. What to do? Well, there is some excellent shopping and white sand beaches to fill your time between games. They also have some good food options, so take in all that the area has to offer. Then, Miami is only ninety minutes away! It is so difficult to be bored in Miami; there is always something to do. There’s good food, lots of art, and it is a great place to catch a concert, as well.
Spring Training games are fun because players are much more relaxed. They interact with fans, with each other, and seem to be having a good time. It is different from the vibe of a regular season game because those games matter. There is less pressure for major leaguers down here, and that makes for a different fan experience. There are no heartbreaking losses, only a fun time at the ballpark. If you haven’t been, it’s a quick flight or a drive straight down I-95. This year or next, if you enjoy Nats baseball this is a great vacation opportunity.
And seriously ... Use sunscreen.
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Audrey Stark is a Contributor at Federal Baseball. You can follow her on Twitter @HighStarkSunday.