The origins of spring training: a play-by-play

Dated: March 23 2021

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February 28th marked the first day of spring training 2021. With most of the long, hard winter behind us, this was a much-anticipated event that signaled warmer weather, hot dogs and home runs. This year especially, spring training  gives us a 24-28 game schedule versus last year’s abbreviated schedule due to COVID-19—and that’s good news for baseball fans and the country in general. Sports as we know it, just may be returning.


The breakdown

But what exactly is spring training? What is the Cactus or Grapefruit League? Spring training gives players the opportunity to train and managers the chance to observe. Currently, there are 15 teams in the Cactus League and 15 in the Grapefruit League. While there are many versions of the origin of their names, the Leagues were simply named after plants typical of their respective states.


Here’s how it works. Half the teams train in Arizona in the Cactus League; the other half on the east coast of Florida. Compare that to eight teams in the Cactus League in 1989, with the other 18 in Florida. By 2018, the split was even, with 15 teams training in each location. Did you know the metropolitan Phoenix area has the greatest concentration of professional baseball facilities in the U.S.—10 of which host the Cactus League?


Who plays who?

Unlike in the regular season, teams play their exhibition games against other clubs training in the same state. For instance, teams that train in the Cactus League play Cactus League teams. Same for the Grapefruit League. So you won’t see the Arizona Diamondbacks competing against the New York Yankees until their first regular season game after March 28. But that doesn’t mean the competition isn’t fierce.


While players don’t give it their all during spring training for fear of injury, there’s plenty of fast action and fun to be had. Here’s where you watch for up-and-comers and keep an eye on all-time favorites. The comradery is infectious after months off the field.


Where it all began

It’s been said that the first spring training took place back in 1870, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings held baseball camps in New Orleans. Others say that the Washington Capitals of the National League pioneered spring training in 1888, in Jacksonville, Florida.


You could say that in 1900, spring training was firmly established, with most American and National League teams heading out of town to tone up and get into the field. The Chicago Cubs first trained in Santa Monica in 1905 and then trained on California’s Catalina Island between 1922-1942 and again in 1950-1951. Other teams traveled as well, to warmer climates to prepare for the regular season.


On the east coast, the migration was in the direction of the Sunshine State. The Philadelphia Phillies were the first of the current major-league teams to train in Florida in 1889. It wasn’t until 1913, however, that spring training in Florida was established. The Chicago Cubs trained in Tampa and the Cleveland Indians in Pensacola. One year later, two other teams moved to Florida for spring training, the real start of the Grapefruit League.


In 1947, the Cactus League came into being, when Horace Stoneham’s New York Giants and Bill Veeck’s Cleveland Indians took up residence in Phoenix and Tucson. Veeck owned ranches in the Southwest and a ranch near Tucson. Stoneham was a natural for Phoenix, as he developed business interests in the area.


The score

Whether or not you’re a baseball fan, there’s one thing for certain. Arizona and Florida are top picks for baseball teams and great places to live—thanks to good weather, a stunning landscape and low cost of living. Play ball!


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