February 24, 2000 -- Baseball's spring training season is underway and that conjures up all sorts of warm and fuzzy American images: mom, hot dogs, apple pie, crackerjack and, of course, maniacal road trips to see a bunch of exhibition games in just a few days.
Exhibition season, in fact, is perfect for baseball junkies. All 30 major-league teams' training facilities are concentrated in just two states: Florida and Arizona. Twenty train in the so-called Grapefruit League in Florida. The other ten teams train in Arizona's Cactus League.
"Spring training is nirvana. All you need is a car, maps, and the desire to see baseball," says Doris Barowitz, who's headed south to baseball from snowy Wisconsin each of the last five winters. In two of these years, she's driven to Arizona, then hopscotched by car from one training camp to another. For the last three years, however, she has focused on Florida.
"All you have to do is drive up and down the coasts of Florida and you can't help but find baseball in March," she says. "It's wonderful. The training camps are friendly, the ballplayers are accessible and the exhibition games are in lovely little ballparks."
Barowitz exaggerates. Finding the spring-training camps isn't simply a matter of driving around aimlessly. But it's not difficult, either. With a few maps from Mapquest and the help of several information-packed, baseball-oriented Web sites, you can plan a wonderful exhibition baseball holiday in Florida or Arizona.
The Major League Baseball site is a treasure trove of useful information. It offers links to every club's spring training headquarters and those pages are exceptionally rich in detail. They offer basic maps and stadium directions, as well as a list of nearby restaurants and hotels. There are also feature stories, rosters, schedules of exhibition games and ticket information. Want to skip the background? Then head directly to baseball's Spring Training Web site.
But like every good fantasy, baseball's exhibition season is short and intense. By April 3, all 30 teams will scatter around the nation to begin the "real" season of 162 games. Every team's schedule is on the Web, making planning a breeze.
Want to schedule a road trip this spring or summer to visit several cities and catch games during the regular season? Check out Mapquest and you'll discover that East Coast cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore are within easy drives of each other. So are major-league towns cities such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland; St. Louis and Kansas City; Detroit and Toronto; and Tampa and Miami, home of the Florida Marlins. On the West Coast, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Diego are within easy drives and San Francisco and Oakland are just a bridge over the bay away. That means you can often pack three or four game in separate cities into one baseball-filled weekend.
Want to view stadium seat maps? Head for About.com. Its baseball site offers links to every team's official site and their seat maps. Want a one-stop spot for ticket information? Another superlative About.com page offers all that information.
One final thought: The 30 "big-league" clubs do not represent the totality of the baseball world. Many enthusiasts prefer minor-league baseball, where the prices are lower, the home towns are cozier, the experience is more kid-friendly and the up-and-coming players are willing to interact with the average fan. If you're hoping to visit minor league clubs and cities this season, then point your browser to the official site of Minor League Baseball. It is packed with useful information about the various leagues, schedules and teams. There's even a wonderful search feature that allows you to find information about any minor-league player.This column originally appeared at Mapquest.com.