Twins Spring Training 23 Mar 12

Twins Hey, Twins Fans! Come On Down!

Beginning today, put all of your spare change and extra dollars into your cookie jar, and start planning for next March, when you’re going to take a trip to paradise…a.k.a. Fort Myers… and watch the Twins in training. Every Twins fan should have a trip to spring training on his or her bucket list.

I’ve been visiting Florida every March since the 1980s, when the Twins trained at Tinker Field. Tinker Field was located in an old Orlando neighborhood where the neighboring houses had bars on the windows, and sometimes there was fear on the fans’ faces as they walked to their cars after the game.

I have even made a few trips to Arizona camps, and to Palm Springs, California, where the Angels would spend half of their spring many years ago.

But nothing beats the Fort Myers area: beautiful beaches, great shopping, some of the best food you’ll find anywhere, and, of course, Twins baseball. The Twins are now in their 22nd year of training at Hammond Field: a pristine ballpark with a manicured field, beautiful fountains, five adjacent training fields, grilled bratwurst, hot dogs, and burgers for sale, a picnic area for private gatherings, and a zillion places for families to tailgate, grill and play catch or Frisbee. Hammond Stadium has a seating capacity of 8,100.

I have been told by non-fan spouses, that even they love the atmosphere at Hammond. What’s not to like? The weather is usually perfect, and the flowers, trees and plants growing in this area make you feel as though you’ve stepped into the Garden of Eden. The friendliness of the visiting Twins fans is amazing, as perfect strangers socialize and have fun together.

And now you have Jet Blue, spring training home of the Red Sox, only three miles down the road. It allows you to get even more baseball in a short distance. Jet Blue has a contemporary design on the outside, but many replica characteristics of historic Fenway on the interior, from a mini “Green Monster” to a manual score board. They even serve the famous Fenway Franks at Jet Blue. The Twins play there several times every year.

The accessibility to the players is pretty amazing at spring training, too. The veterans are relaxed and often visit with fans while signing autographs and the rookies bask in the glory of being asked for an autograph. You may be getting an autograph from a future Hall of Famer. They all start here.

It’s fun to walk over to one of the adjacent fields and catch a minor-league workout being run by Jake Mauer, Tom Kelly, Rod Carew, or Paul Molitor…and for free. You might even be lucky enough to see a star playing in a minor-league game to get some extra swings. So if you don’t have tickets to the “big” game…no worries. There are plenty of things to do to keep you busy for a morning at the ballpark. All you have to do is pay for parking. On the team’s travel days, many players, including stars, are left behind to work out at the Hammond complex. On those days, you don’t even have to pay to park, and you are allowed to enter the stadium. The gift shop stays open, too, selling unique spring training souvenirs, including my children’s book, “Baseball Guy.” You’ll still have your afternoon free to spend at one of the many great beaches or at your hotel pool, and read my book to your kids.

If you are going to hang at the beach for a day, which I highly recommend, I need to warn you that traffic can be heavy and parking at a premium. No worries, though—Fort Myers has numerous park-and-ride lots with trolley service through the Fort Myers Beach area. Or get a hotel for a few nights at the beach and really have some fun.

When booking your flight, if you can’t find a time or price that meets your needs, you can book a flight to nearly anywhere else in Florida and be here in a few hours. Rental cars are often less expensive at other airports in March as well, as they might have a larger supply and less demand. I often come into Orlando which is a 2-1/2 hour drive, or Tampa (about 90 minutes). The freeways are crowded, but usually move at above the posted speeds.

If you have more time, less money, or a family to move, you can make an easy drive to Southwest Florida. It’s quicker than you think from Minnesota — just plan on two 12-hour days, including stops. A good halfway point is Nashville. To save money, stay outside the city. If money’s not a problem, stay at the beautiful Gaylord Hotel, right next to Opryland, with more than 50 restaurants and shops, and even gondola rides. If driving is the plan, reserve a room ahead, because many motorists have the same itinerary.

If you do have a lot of time to stay in Fort Myers, you might want to do some research on renting a house in the area for a month. Although March is high season, you might share the rental with friends or family, making it a great value, and houses often include a private pool and hot tub.

People tell me it was beautiful in Minnesota this March. But I tell them there are no flowers, palm trees, green grass, pools, guarantees of nice weather, and especially there is NO TWINS BASEBALL! No matter how you plan it, I hope to see you next March. Now let’s play ball!

Next week I’ll give you my analysis of this year’s spring training and of this year’s team.