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|| News Item: Posted 2000-02-23

Paradise Found! AKA: Major League Baseball's Spring Training
By Rich Pilling, Major League Baseball Photos

Photo by Louis DeLuca/MLB Photos

Photo by Louis DeLuca/MLB Photos
Baseball's spring training is truly one assignment that I look forward to each year. For us who live in cold winter climates, it is an escape from the harsh winter weather. It is also a chance to work out of the office, away from the boss, and the work days aren't that long... especially compared to the 14 hour days (clocked from the time I leave my home to the time that I return that same day) that I put in when I work in the office.

Spring training starts at the end of February and runs through the end March of every year. Arizona and Florida are the host states. Ten Major League Baseball teams work out in Arizona, twenty in Florida. It is much easier to get around to the camps in Arizona, since most of spring training complexes are located in the Phoenix or Tucson areas, only a short drive from each other. Ask the photographers who cover the camps in Florida. They put mega-miles on their rental cars every week just traveling from camp to camp.

Arizona is my favorite place for spring training. The weather is better; there's no humidity and it is much more convenient to get around. I worked only the Florida circuit for the first 10 years and complained strongly when my editor told me that he was sending me to Arizona the first time. I loved the beaches and ocean. Why was I going to land locked Arizona?

Grouped in the Phoenix area are the camps of the Athletics, Cubs, Brewers, Giants and Angels. Both the Padres and the Mariners train at the same complex in Peoria. The drive from Phoenix to Peoria is under one hour.

The Tucson area is home to the Diamondbacks, White Sox and Rockies. The drive from Phoenix to Tucson takes around two hours. The highway speed limit in the desert is 75MPH. I usually set the cruise control to 78 and enjoy the ride.

Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos

Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos
The are three unique segments of spring training. The first is Photo Days, a two-week period in which the players are available, in uniform to pose for head shots. These days are usually limited to photographers working for wire services, newspapers and licensees. Each photographer sets up a portable studio to take "head shots" of the players, manager and coaches. The majority of Photo Days start at 8:00AM, which means having to get there and set up around 7:00AM. Getting up early is no fun, however, your day usually ends earlier than usual.

Photo Days are followed by work out days, usually less than one week.

Accessibility to players at this time is the best, because they haven't begun to play scheduled games. Players are more relaxed and more at ease. Many years ago I wanted to take a candid photograph of Ken Griffey Jr.

And, as is his custom, Junior LOVES to have fun and play mind games with the photographers. If you're not familiar with him, he can be a little intimidating. "Who are you working for? You can't take my picture unless I give you permission."

Photo by
So I thought that I'd turn the tables on him. I began taking his picture and sure enough he approached me. "Who are you working for?" he asked. "Mad Magazine" I said with a straight face. Very seriously, Junior replied, "I didn't know that they were doing a story on me." I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing in his face. I walked away knowing that for this one day victory my mine!

Junior still likes to play the "who are you working for" game. A few years later, the Mariners came to New York to play the Yankees. Junior came out for batting practice and a group of photographers started to take his picture. He began asking us who we worked for. When he got to me, he smiled and said, "oh yeah, Mad Magazine." Next to be asked was Sport's Illustrated's Chuck Solomon. Chuck's reply, "I'm working for him (meaning me)." Griffey liked that response, and without blinking an eye continued to ask the same question to the others.

The games begin after the workout days. Most games start around 1:00PM or 1:30PM. Batting practice (BP) usually begins around 10:00AM or 10:30AM.

The players are still very accessible. BP is a good time to get candid portraits of players. They usually banter among themselves, joking and laughing.

Photo by Chuck Solomon/MLB Photos

Photo by Chuck Solomon/MLB Photos
Spring training games offers an excellent opportunity to get images of the entire team. The starters usually play only 3, 4 or 5 innings of the game.

After that the rookies and lesser-known players are given their chance to play so that their talents can be evaluated. The games are generally over by 4:00PM, so if you don't have to transmit your images, you have the rest of the day to your self.

I love to play golf! I play everyday in Arizona and still get to the games long before most of the other photographers. By making early morning tee-times I can still play 18 holes and then get to the stadiums in time for batting practice, usually before the other photographers. I can even squeeze in at least 9 holes after a game.

The Phoenix/Scottsdale area is home to many outstanding golf courses. The costs of green fees ranges from reasonable rates at courses like Rolling Hills, Papago Park and Continental; an executive course to big buck charges at places like the Boulders, TPC, McCormick Ranch and Tatum Ranch. The practice facilities at McCormick ranch are

Pay for a large bucket of balls at the Pro shop and go the driving range. After hitting balls, save approximately a half dozen and bring them to the pitching area. You need to only save this many because you'll find dozens more that other golfers have left behind. They have a green set up here, complete with a sand trap. You can practice with your lob and sand wedges. From there you can go to a large, undulating putting green. So, for the price of a bucket of balls you get to work on many areas of your game.

Great restaurants are everywhere! "Don and Charlie's" in Scottsdale is great for steaks and chops. They love sports and sports personalities. The walls are adorned with balls, bats, newspaper and magazine covers and the like.

Most likely you'll recognize players, managers and general managers chowing down. Don & Charlie's also caters the media lunch for the San Francisco Giants. I know many photographers who covered the Giants games in Scottsdale just to have LUNCH there. "Roy's of Hawaii" is a favorite of Eric Risberg and John Swart. They serve awesome fresh seafood, shipped into the desert daily.

Photo by
"The Fog City Diner," direct from San Francisco has a very diverse menu. "PF Chang's" is great for top-notch Chinese food; located in both Tempe and Scottsdale. "Bandera's" in Scottsdale offers delicious roasted chicken and garlic mashed potatoes.

Also in Scottsdale is "Hop's," a microbrewery with Continental food. Both their beer (be careful how much you drink because the alcohol content is higher since they brew their own) and food is delicious. "Morton's of Chicago," a favorite of Lenny Ignelzi is there as is "The Pink Pony," a Scottsdale steak house landmark. You always can find a "Chili's Bar and Grill" or "Boston Market." One thing is for sure, you won't go hungry.

There are three major areas of Spring Training complex in Florida; East Coast, West Coast and Central. The East Coast (ocean coast) has the Marlins, Dodgers, Expos, Mets, Cardinals and Orioles. The West Cost (bay coast) has the Blue Jays, Phillies, Yankees, Devil Rays, Pirates, Reds, Rangers, Red Sox and Twins. The Centrally located teams are Tigers, Indians, Braves, Royals and Astros.

Everything is very spread out in Florida. One hundred thirty-three miles separates the Blue Jays in Dunedin from Red Sox and Twins in Ft. Meyers on the West Coast. There are one hundred fifty-eight miles between the east coast teams of the Marlins in Viera and the Orioles in Ft. Lauderdale. I try to group the teams into even tighter areas when I cover them in Florida. One group on the West Coast is Blue Jays; Dunedin, Phillies; Clearwater, Yankees; Tampa and the Devil Rays; St. Petersburg.

A second group on the West Coast is the Pirates; Bradenton; Reds; Sarasota, Rangers; Port Charlotte and the Red Sox and Twins; both in Ft. Myers. A third group consists of the centrally located teams; Tigers; Lakeland, Indians; Winter Haven, Royals; Davenport, Braves; Disney World/ Kissimmee, Astros; Kissimmee and the East coast Marlins; Viera. On the East coast, group the following teams: Dodgers; Vero Beach, Mets; Port St. Lucie, Expos and Cardinals share a complex in Jupiter and the Orioles; Ft. Lauderdale.

Since Florida is so spread out, and honestly since I don't spend as much time in each area in Florida as I do in Arizona, I can't pass along as detailed a restaurant list. However, in the Tampa area try "Bern's Steak" house. Don't miss their famous desert room, upstairs. Bern's is a five star restaurant, but the decor is early bordello. Remember: you go for the food, not the ambiance!

On the other end of the culinary spectrum is "La Terrasita," a Cuban restaurant located near the Yankees camp in Tampa. You sit a the counter with the colorful locals instead of at a table. Don't let this scare you away. La Terrasita serves THE best Cuban cuisine that
I have every tasted!

The old section of Tampa, called Ybor City has many fine restaurants including "Columbia Restaurant." If you are in Tampa on St. Patrick's day (March 17) you must see the parade in Ybor City. Even though Ybor City is traditionally Hispanic, they throw a great St. Patty's Day parade.

Photo by
My favorite seafood restaurant is on Florida East Coast, in Palm Beach. "Charlie's Crab" is located right on the ocean; great view and great food to match. While in Palm Beach, if you want to see how the rich and famous live, enjoy the short drive along the ocean on A1A, starting at Charlie's Crab and going south. You will see the Mar-a-Lago mansion of Donald Trump and others. Travel a little farther south to the Ft. Lauderdale area for a down and dirty place for Maryland style steamed crabs, garlic style is the "Rustic Inn."

There are many good restaurants also in Ft. Lauderdale on Las Olas Boulevard including "Mark's" and "Mango's." In addition to fine food, Mango's serves up live Jazz. Allen Kee, a Florida local tells me that Mango's is one of his favorite restaurants. Don't forget to venture into South Beach (Miami Beach area). Two favorite places are Gloria
Estefan's "Lario's" and "The China Grille." If you're looking for a little nightlife, try "Bash." Be sure to mention Allen Kee's name, since he is a regular there.

Many hotels will offer you a discount on rooms. If you plan on staying more than two weeks, ask the sales department for an extended stay rate.

Often, you can contact the Media Relations department of the clubs and see if they can offer a special rate at the team hotel.

Pick up a copy of the current years "Spring Training Media Guide" published by Major League Baseball. Ask for a copy from either the Public Relations Department at Major League Baseball or from the individual team's media relations departments. This guide is full of invaluable information consisting of maps to the complexes, club contacts, hotel and stadium information, team rosters as well as times for BP and a complete schedule of games.

And remember, as the song goes... don't forget to wear your sunscreen.

(Rich Pilling is the manager for Major League Baseball Photos.)

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