LAKELAND, Fla. (FOX 2) - It’s March, you’re cold. The holidays are over. You miss the sun. You miss baseball.
But wait, the Detroit Tigers report to spring training in Lakeland, Florida. There's a chance to escape it all and head down for a game. But that’s going to mean time off work, plus a flight and hotel, yada yada yada. So the question is: Should you visit Lakeland for a Tigers spring training game? Is it worth it?
The short answer: Yes.
The long answer: Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssssssss.
I just returned from covering the Tigers in Lakeland for the first time. You might think the atmosphere at a spring training game is the same as a regular season After all, you’ve got the same ingredients -- sunshine, hotdogs, beer, and of course, baseball. But it’s not. It’s different.
The spring training home of the Detroit Tigers, Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, presents an atmosphere where people are just......... happy. It’s February, but the sun is shining, the drinks are flowing, and baseball is back. The tone is light, the stakes aren’t high yet as the players train and work up a rhythm to head into the season. For those of us in Michigan, it’s a chance to take a break from the frigid, gray winter time and spend time enjoying America’s pastime.
I found that the positivity existed on every level, from the players to the fans and most importantly, to the people who run the place. There were dozens of workers who met me with a smile, including ballpark workers who knew everything about the field. Everyone wanted to talk, to share stories of love for the Tigers and their hopes for the year.
Let’s start with the baseball part of things. It’s spring and the season ended months ago the way it did, which was likely not a playoff run. Now you’re itching for some baseball again. You’ve accepted that this was not the year of the World Series in Detroit -- but maybe next year? Spring training is a chance for renewed hope for success, depending on your level of cynicism.
This year, there are a ton of players to meet or revisit in spring training -- 61 players in camp: 31 pitchers, 14 infielders, 9 outfielders and 7 catchers. That’s a lot of people to watch. Aside from the big names like Miggy, Jordan Zimmerman, JaCoby Jones and the like, you have the chance to play baseball scout with your friends. Each year you get to see some of the prospects coming up through the Tigers system. That way when you get back to Michigan you're basically an expert. "That Franklin Perez, he's just coming off a bad injury but he's jumping up the ranks. You should keep your eye on him." Reading about prospects is one thing, but seeing them all in action is entirely different.
The stadium itself recently underwent some major upgrades in recent years and provides a fun atmosphere to catch up with the Tigers.
You can sunbathe on the berm, or the grass on the side, with a blanket like these folks. Kids were throwing baseballs over here, preparing for their own spring training debuts.
Or if you prefer, you can sit a little higher up on the Berm Bar, which features 360-degree bar seating and a 120-foot drink rail with waitress service.
You’ll also find a kids playground with a wiffle ball field that’s centered around a 27-foot inflatable Tiger bounce house.
Fans can escape the heat in the 34 Club presented by Miller Lite, which honors the first year the Tigers came to Lakeland in 1934, and features a bar, seating and an all-inclusive buffet.
Along right field line, you’ll find a Margaritaville Deck, a Hooters dugout and a two-tiered Pepsi Pavilion.
The food is pretty typical yummy ballpark foods, including the ‘Que on Kaline, but perhaps most interesting is the controversial Flint-style Coney Dog stand. It seemed peculiar that a Detroit team’s stadium would feature Flint-style coney dogs, when the city proudly boasts Lafayette and American Coney restaurants.
As a journalist, I took it upon myself to try it. You know, for research. It was good, though I prefer Detroit-style coney dogs, personally.
Another perk of going to Florida is the cool gear. You’ll find another D-Shop at the Lakeland stadium, featuring specialized spring training clothes. Here are some options:
If baseball and sun are two things you miss the dead of winter time, Tigers spring training is for you. The atmosphere is unique it its warmness -- and I'm not just walking about the temperature. Without the heavy pressure of wins and losses, the players focus on warming up for the season and so do the fans. People there love the Detroit Tigers, and people there are just happy baseball's back.