Spring training is officially underway, as full-squad workouts are in full swing around the league and MLB preseason games officially begin on Feb. 26.
For me personally, spring training has always served as a light at the end of the dark tunnel that is winter in the Midwest. Even while it's still freezing outside here in Chicago, turning on my TV and seeing baseball being played in sunny Arizona or Florida gives me hope that spring is in fact right around the corner.
Whether or not you count baseball as your favorite, it's hard to argue that MLB spring training is far and away the best preseason in pro sports.
For the sake of argument, we'll focus strictly on the big three of baseball, basketball and football. Here is why spring training takes the cake.
The cost of a regular-season baseball game continues to climb. The average non-premium ticket price last season was $27.48, up 1.8 percent from the previous season, according to FanCostExperience.com.
Here is a look at the rest of the average ticket prices this past/current season, courtesy of Team Marketing Report:
|Sport||Average Ticket Price||Low Range||High Range|
|MLB||$27.48||$15.99 (San Diego)||$53.38 (Boston)|
|NBA||$52.04||$26.87 (New Orleans)||$129.38 (New York)|
|NFL||$81.54||$54.20 (Cleveland)||$117.84 (New England)|
Already the cheapest ticket of the three sports, MLB prices are even cheaper in the spring. It is the general admission tickets that really separate spring training from the rest of the pack, though. Like a number of minor league stadiums around the league, spring training stadiums feature lawn seating for a reasonable $10-$20 at most ballparks.
Other sports obviously knock their pricing down in the preseason as well, but none have the bargain-barrel option that spring training parks offer.
Not Just a Game, But Also a Vacation
Preseason games for the other major sports take place at the same arenas and stadiums that the regular-season games do. While certainly still a good time, attending one of those games is generally an experience set aside for a single day or night, much like a regular-season game would be.
On the other hand, spring training is a legitimate vacation destination for a number of people and oftentimes their families as well. Many teams spend their spring in small cities that are set up to be tourist destinations around the ballpark.
Preseason in the two other sports is just another game, but spring training is more times than not a whole experience beyond the game itself.
A Glimpse into the Future
Given the popularity and exposure of both college basketball and college football, a large percentage of top NBA and NFL draft picks have already been on display on the national stage before they ever make their way to the pro game.
Baseball is a different story entirely. College baseball does not have nearly the following or exposure of those other two sports, and a number of top prospects are plucked from the high school ranks as well.
Many MLB fans know the names of the top prospects in their favorite team's organization, but outside of some online videos, they have never seen them in action. Spring training is an opportunity for those future stars to be put on display, even if they don't have any real chance of making the Opening Day roster.
Top prospects like Byron Buxton (MIN), Miguel Sano (MIN), Carlos Correa (HOU), Javier Baez (CHC), Noah Syndergaard (NYM), Robert Stephenson (CIN), Addison Russell (OAK) and a number of other future stars have next to no chance of breaking camp with the big league team, but they will be in big league camp nonetheless.
Seeing these prospects is particularly big for teams with no real chance at contention in the year ahead. Clubs like the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins figure to be among the league's worst teams, but they have stocked farm systems and their bright futures will be on full display this spring.
Star Players Actually Play
The NFL preseason is more about players practicing and getting in shape during camp than it is about the four exhibition games that are played. And three of those four games are essentially played by the backups, as Week 3 of the preseason is generally the only time the starters see extended playing time.
If you're going to Week 1, 2 or 4 of the preseason, it's hard to justify spending that much money to watch backups and guys who may not even make the roster play three-and-a-half quarters.
The NBA preseason kicks off with NBA Summer League action in Orlando and Las Vegas, but those games are generally reserved for draft picks, non-roster invites and fringe players trying to earn a place at the end of the bench.
Which sport has the best preseason?
The actual preseason is only six to eight games, played over the three weeks leading up to the start of the regular season. The starters take the court in those games, but they don't see anywhere near the playing time they do in the regular season. The 24 players who made the All-Star team in 2014 averaged just 25.2 minutes played in the preseason.
Granted, spring training starts out with a ton of guys in big league camp, but starters still see action almost every game, and as the rosters are trimmed throughout the course of the spring, they see more and more playing time.
With split-squad action, teams are also in action nearly every day, so there is plenty of opportunities to catch your favorite team before the regular season kicks off.