Spring Training baseball: A timeless ritual

Postcards from Florida

It was windy and chilly on Tuesday, with a definite threat of rain, so it wasn't the ideal backdrop for the opening games of baseball spring training in the Sunshine State.

On the flip side, there was plenty of elbow room in the reserved seats along the third-base line at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, the historic spring training site of the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers were opening the spring season with a contest against the Florida Southern Mocs, a lop-sided matchup that teamed with the inhospitable weather to keep the masses away on a weekday afternoon.

Even with the clouds, a mid-week getaway for an afternoon ball game is still one of the unique pleasures of springtime in Florida. In Orlando, you can pull the trigger on a Lakeland baseball road trip just before lunch time and still slide into your seat in time for the first pitch.

There's been a creeping exodus of Major League teams from Florida to Arizona in recent years, but there are still plenty of options for spring baseball here:

You can find teams in Viera ( Washington Nationals); Lake Buena Vista ( Atlanta Braves); Kissimmee ( Houston Astros); Sarasota ( Baltimore Orioles); Fort Myers ( Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins); Jupiter ( Florida Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals); Port St. Lucie ( New York Mets); Tampa ( New York Yankees); Clearwater ( Philadelphia Phillies); Bradenton ( Pittsburgh Pirates); Port Charlotte ( Tampa Bay Rays); and Dunedin ( Toronto Blue Jays). Visit mlb.com for ticket and schedule information, and make plans early for marquee matchups.

No such worries on Tuesday when I arrived at the ticket window to find my pick of any section, eventually settling on a $13 spot in the reserved grandstand. Tigertown remains one of the genuine old-school spring baseball experiences.

Fans are close enough to the action to interact, such as the friendly exchange on Tuesday between a guy in my section and a Florida Southern player, who wasn't aware of the big green gum bubble attached to the top of his cap by a wise-guy teammate.

I almost lucked into a foul ball, lunched on a hot dog, beer and peanuts for $13, and watched the sun peek through the clouds, at least in my mind. Let's play two.

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