It has been four years since Major League Baseball had a ‘normal’ spring training.
First, we had the “Stay-At-Home Era.”
Baseball looked (relatively) normal until March 11, 2020, when an uncharacteristic Arizona rainstorm canceled a full slate of Cactus League games that day — only for COVID-19 to shut down the world that night.
It was a long winter for the Cactus and Grapefruit — even after the winter ended.
We had the “Zip-Tie Era.”
A normal schedule was planned for 2021, but capacity restrictions led to hellacious ticket prices. Third-party sites were the only hope for some — and a harsh lesson in supply and demand was learned.
Capacities returned to normal in 2021, but it took until late June for Coors Field to allow 100% seating capacity again.
The MLB postseason would progress from COVID-induced neutral sites to home-field-advantaged sellouts. 2021 was far from a ‘normal’ year, but it was perhaps the most welcomed ‘abbreviated normal’ that could have existed — especially in July, when the All-Star Game helped Rockies fans make up for lost time.
The full year was too quiet for those in Arizona and Florida, however. For almost all spring training venues, 2022 was the only hope for a near-capacity crowd.
Freshest in our minds: we then had the 2021-22 MLB lockout. It started on December 2, 2021 and ended on March 10, 2022. Spring training games, originally scheduled to begin on February 26, were pushed back nearly three weeks.
Some may not have made travel plans at all last year, knowing the uncertainty of the lockout could prevent them from baseball they were looking for. Those that did make plans could have canceled them once the calendar turned to March.
Action did resume, for some teams as early as March 17, just seven days after the lockout ended. (Some players couldn’t arrive on time, let alone fans.) The gates were filling again, but a seven-day notice kept many away.
After one week of the 2022 Cactus League, six of the 15 Arizona-based teams averaged 5,000 fans or fewer per game.
The last ‘normal’ year was 2019. Nobody was below that threshold back then.
The outlook in 2023 is as good as ever for those that love the normalcy of a standard baseball calendar. Mix in a World Baseball Classic, and we have ourselves one of the brightest horizons in the history of spring training.
2023 Spring Training - Colorado Rockies
- 34 games scheduled
- 18 games scheduled at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick
- 22 games at, or within a 12-mile radius of, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick
- 2 games at Las Vegas Ballpark! (Not your traditional Arizona, but still pretty cool.)
- 1 exhibition scheduled against Team Mexico
2023 Spring Training - Greater Phoenix
- 230 Cactus League games scheduled between MLB teams
- 241 games featuring at least one MLB team (includes WBC and MLB-vs-NCAA exhibitions)
- 250 games featuring at least one MLB or WBC team
- 10 games at Chase Field (World Baseball Classic Pool C: Canada, Columbia, Great Britain, Mexico, USA)
- 11 different ballparks (includes Chase Field/World Baseball Classic)
With so much going on — and so much back to normal — there isn’t a bad time to visit.
If you’re a Rockies fan, what time is the best?
COL vs. Mexico | COL vs. SF | COL vs. SEA | ARI vs. COL
During this span, the Rockies will play four games at their spring home, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, with one being a ‘road’ game against the complex-sharing Diamondbacks. There isn’t a huge need to rent a car during this span, assuming you’re a strictly-baseball person that likes taking Ubers and staying in Scottsdale hotels.
On March 12 — the final day of this five day window — Team USA squares off against Team Mexico at 7:00 p.m. inside Chase Field.
OAK vs. COL | COL vs. CHC (night) | COL vs. LAD | SD vs. COL
This four-game stretch would allow a fan to visit three different ballparks in the Cactus League. The Cubs’ Sloan Park features some of the highest attendance in all of spring training, while the Dodgers’ spring home, Camelback Ranch (shared with the White Sox), was planned by the same architects that designed Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
This stretch would also run in succession with the final three days of World Baseball Classic Pool C, helping fans check the box of a big league stadium if they so choose.
LAD vs. COL | COL @ SD | LAA vs. COL | OFF | COL @ MIL (split-squad) | CLE vs. COL
This is a proverbial ‘sweet spot’ of games where everyday big-leaguers and top starting pitchers might extend their workloads.
The Rockies open the regular season on March 30 and the few days leading up to it can look more like a tune-up than a build-up, so a few days earlier can lead to some higher workloads.
February 6 - March 28
If you have the time and resources, this mega-window features the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Glendale, Arizona-hosted Super Bowl LVII, the entirety of the 2023 Cactus League and World Baseball Classic Pool C, and it would then leave you in close proximity to San Diego where the Rockies open up the regular season on March 30.
(Bonus in 2024: the Final Four will be hosted in Phoenix, too.)
There really isn’t a bad time, after all; with so much baseball in such a close radius, any timeframe is a good window.
Most importantly, it’s back to normal.
It’s been far too long.