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Caught between the Grapefruit and the Cactus leagues

Posted by Charles Fountain  March 4, 2009 05:17 AM

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The weather gets a lot of talk, too. For most of winter-bound America, there's not a lot of difference between the sun of Florida and the sun of Arizona, but the locals in both states like to point out how theirs is better. "They get all that rain in Florida," say the chamber of commerce people in Arizona. "You lose a lot of games and training time to rain."

"Players don't sweat in Arizona," counters one Florida person. "They don't get in the same kind of shape because they never sweat. You look at the conditioning of teams in the early season, and you'll see that the teams that trained in Florida seem to be in much better shape."

But the difference that matters most these days is money. Spring training is big business now, and since the beginning of this century, Arizona has spent $250 million in public money building and improving spring training facilities for major league baseball teams. Florida has spent too, but $100 million less than Arizona has. This has led to a dramatic shift in the spring training map. Since 1998, five teams have shifted from Florida to Arizona, with a sixth, the Cincinnati Reds, scheduled to join them in 2010. When that happens the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues will be even at 15 teams apiece for the first time.

That has a nice symmetry, but it will surely not remain that way forever. Inevitably, some team will start to see a greener patch of grass and a greener pile of money in a new community, hankering for spring training, and the map will change again. It's not likely to happen soon in this economy; state budgets in both Florida and Arizona are in tatters. But history shows us that recessions are not forever. Baseball and spring training surely are.

Under the March Sun
Charles Fountain is a journalism professor at Northeastern and has authored a book on the history and culture of baseball spring trainng, titled "Under the March Sun."

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