Spring is one of the busiest times of the year for many of the communities that surround the Villages of Citrus Hills.
We have the pleasure of being located close to the Spring Training homes of six different Major League Baseball teams, so if you are looking for a fun way to spend a day before those teams head north for the summer, here is a little background on each of the six teams you can visit.
New York Yankees - Tampa
The past few seasons have not been kind to the Yankees, but their current rebuild is likely to produce a number of interesting stories to watch at their Spring Training home in Tampa this year. Gone are Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann, which will make room for up-and-comers like catcher Gary Sanchez, who burst onto the scene last year, and first base prospect Greg Bird, who hopes to follow in Sanchez’s footsteps this year.
The Yankees were also active on the free agent market bringing in talented veterans like Aroldis Chapman, Matt Holiday, and Chris Carter, so there should be plenty of pieces to complement the pinstriped youth movement.
Toronto Blue Jays - Dunedin
Last year was supposed to be the year that the Blue Jays returned to the World Series, but those dreams were derailed by the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship series. Unfortunately for Blue Jays fans, just getting back to the playoffs is going to be difficult this year after losing Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Saunders, Brett Cecil, Joaquin Benoit, and R.A. Dickey all to free agency.
The team that will be taking the field in Toronto is definitely going to have a lot less firepower this year, but they still have an extremely deep pitching staff. Watching how those arms come around this spring will be able to tell us a lot about what to expect from the Blue Jays in 2017.
Philadelphia Phillies - Clearwater
This is the first spring training in Clearwater without Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard in more than a decade. There hasn’t been much winning for the Phillies in recent years, but things are looking better and better as many of the team’s young prospects like Odubel Herrera have started to produce.
In addition to all of the great young talent the Phillies will be working with this year, they have also added proven commodities like Clay Buchholz, Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders, and Joaquin Benoit through various trades and free agency.
Detroit Tigers - Lakeland
After failing to make the playoffs last season, many experts expected the Detroit Tigers to tear apart their entire roster and start from scratch with a complete rebuild. But as the winter wore on, it became clear that the upper management in Detroit was going to take one more shot with their core in 2017.
Many of the regular Tigers like Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler, and J.D. Martinez are back in Lakeland this spring getting ready to take one last shot at getting to the World Series together.
Pittsburgh Pirates - Bradenton
Much like the Detroit Tigers, the Pittsburgh Pirates are a team that is bringing back the same roster that failed to make the playoffs last year. But the difference between the two clubs is that the team that makes its spring home in Bradenton is much younger.
Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen had a terrible 2016 campaign, and has been dealing with trade rumors all winter long, but he is still on the Pirates roster and might come into the season with a massive chip on his shoulder. Combine that with all of the young talent that fills out the rest of the lineup and there is plenty to watch out for in Bradenton.
Baltimore Orioles - Sarasota
The Baltimore Orioles had a fantastic year in 2016, but they fell just short at the end and lost to the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Wild Card Game. Since then, the O’s have said goodbye to catcher Matt Wieters, as well as Pedro Alvarez, Steve Pearce, Yovani Gallardo, Nolan Reimold, Michael Born, and Vance Worley.
With all of those subtractions, this is going to be a much different lineup in 2017. But the core of sluggers Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Mark Trumbo is still intact. New to the Orioles this year are outfielder Seth Smith and catcher Willington Castillo.
Whether you are a baseball junkie or just looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon, Spring Training games are always relatively inexpensive to attend and can be lots of fun if you know a little bit about what the teams are likely to be working on when you see them.
With this little bit of background, you should be able to have a great time at any of the local games over the next few weeks!