Major League Baseball players have reported to camps in Florida and Arizona, and this weekend marks the official start of the Spring Training schedule. In 2011, more than 3 million fans traveled to games in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues, as the East Coast and West Coast versions are known, and baseball is only one of the draws during the pre-season.
While Spring Training provides the opportunity to catch a game and get close looks at your favorite players, value is another huge draw according to Orbitz.com Senior Editor Jeanenne Tornatore.
"It is a fraction of the cost you'd pay at major league baseball stadiums nowadays. You can get tickets from $8 at a lot of these Spring Training facilities," Tornatore says. "People like to get up close and personal with the teams. This gives fans and families a really affordable opportunity to see their favorite teams and their favorite players."
In Arizona, games cluster around the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, making it very easy for visitors to watch a variety of teams and explore a number of different training facilities in what locals call The Valley.
"The stadiums here in The Valley are all pretty close to each other," says Orbitz market manager Janet Bazan, who lives in the Phoenix area. "You can catch a game in Mesa and then catch a game in Tempe. There are stadiums across The Valley versus across the state. It really makes it easy."
Spring Training is less convenient in Florida, where parks are a bit more spread out. Most teams dot the Gulf Coast from Dunedin to Fort Myers, with a few exceptions in Orlando and on the Atlantic shore. Despite the geographic spread, a majority are no more than an hour or two apart.
In both states, a rental car is a necessity for visitors.
Of course, a trip to Spring Training doesn't have to be all about baseball. In Florida, beaches, golf and Orlando-area theme parks offer alternatives to games. Arizona has plentiful golf courses as well, not to mention hiking, biking and other outdoor pursuits. A fantastic range of hotel options -- both luxurious and budget-friendly -- are another upside to both destinations.
"They do present some really good deals across The Valley," Bazan adds, "Whatever stadium you may want to watch a game at, there are properties located close by that are offering great deals."
There's one final benefit to a Spring Training trip, which Tornatore says not to underestimate at this time of year.
"You're not going to run into a ton of college spring break kids out partying."
The W Scottsdale has a Spring Training special through March 31, with room rates starting at $339 a night, including two free cocktails a night, transportation to Scottsdale Stadium (the spring home of the San Francisco Giants) and buy-one, get-one tickets at the game.
Another Fort Myers-area property that's convenient to both Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox games, this resort is available for 40% off when booked through Travelzoo by March 2. Rates go up a bit for the second half of March, but are still under $200 a night for standard guest rooms.
A few minutes east of Scottsdale, the Inn at Eagle Mountain is running a general 35%-off sale that coincides nicely with Spring Training. Squads warming up for the season nearby include the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Boston Red Sox play their springtime home games in Fort Myers, where the Best Western Airport Inn is 10% off, says Tornatore of Orbitz.com. Jet Blue Park is less than three miles from the hotel and close to Southwest Florida International Airport.
This Hampton Inn goes all-in for games, providing guests booking a Spring Training package with T-shirts and drink coozies in team colors, as well as free transportation to the nearby Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the home of the Rockies and Diamondbacks.
Also in Tampa, this Wyndham has a Spring Training special that knocks as much as 20% off nightly rates, says Orbitz's Tornatore.
This resort property in Phoenix is convenient to Cactus League games and has a Spring Break deal valid through May 20 with rates as low as $179 -- though many nights in March cost a bit more than that.
When booking with Orbitz, guests can get a $75 or $100 discount on Disney properties, which are convenient to the Wide World of Sports complex where the Atlanta Braves play. The deal is good on stays of four nights or more.
This award-winning resort offers a "Home Run" package during the Spring Training season that includes a room category upgrade, daily breakfast and gear for the games -- T-shirts, caps and sunscreen -- from $429 a night.
In Tampa, home to the Yankees' George M. Steinbrenner Field, this Best Western is offering 15% off regular rates, according to Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor with Orbitz.com.