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As the Major League Baseball season winds down, serious fans begin planning their Spring Training trips.

Following your favorite team down to their early spring home is a great way to beat the winter blues, but a Spring Training trip involves lots of careful planning. You’ll need to purchase tickets, book accommodations, and decide whether you want to see anything aside from the ball games.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind when planning your Spring Training vacation.

1. When It Comes To Location, You Can’t Go Wrong

We’ll just say it now: Whether your favorite baseball team is affiliated with the Grapefruit League, whose stadiums are spread across the state of Florida, or the Cactus League, whose stadiums center on Phoenix, Arizona, you’re not going to be disappointed with your Spring Training trip. Each league -- and its corresponding region -- features 15 MLB teams and offers its own fun, inside and outside the ballparks. And either way, you’ll be escaping winter’s chill! That’s a home run as far as we’re concerned.

A spring training game in Arizona.

2. It’s A Good Idea To Book Your Accommodations Ahead Of Time

The teams, coaches, and training staff make their way to their Spring Training bases in early February, and that’s when fans start heading down as well. In 2018, 3.2 million people attended a Spring Training game. Hotels and resorts tend to fill quickly, so you’ll absolutely want to book ahead. If you’re heading down to Florida or Arizona with the entire family, consider a VRBO, Airbnb, or other home-sharing option. You’ll have more amenities and will likely be more comfortable.

Also consider how far your lodging will be from your home team’s stadium. Even with the free shuttles and other transportation options that some teams offer, the roads can and do get congested on game days. Many fans seek to stay within walking distance for both convenience and easy access. The rooms and homes near each stadium will book quickly, and usually at a premium.

3. You’ll Probably Need To Rent A Car

If you want to take in several games, you’ll probably need a rental car. That’s because during Spring Training, unlike during the regular season, the teams tend to skip around quite a bit between home and away games. Grapefruit League games stretch up Florida’s Space Coast over to Tampa. The Cactus League stadiums are a bit more compact, located mostly in Phoenix, Mesa, and Scottsdale.

Consider taking in at least one home and one away game, and build road-trip time into your vacation. Chances are you’ll be able to tack on a fun extra stop or two that will enrich your experience and extend it beyond baseball. More on that later!

Fans sitting on the berm at a spring training game.

4. Spring Training Means Less Sticker Shock

A word to the wise about tickets: Fans should keep in mind that Spring Training stadiums are scaled-down, homier versions of their Major League counterparts. Fewer seats obviously mean fewer tickets, so you will absolutely want to book yours in advance. Consider day games during the week for the best selection, since nights and weekends tend to sell out quickly.

Booking ahead aside, by and large you’ll find that Spring Training tickets are a budget-friendly option compared to regular season tickets. Some teams offer on-sale or presale tickets as early as November, so check in online often on their individual websites.

Another tip: Consider skipping the stadium seats, bringing a blanket instead, and sitting out on the berm. Many Spring Training stadiums feature these grassy areas where fans can buy tickets. Grab a beer, a brat, and enjoy this great, picnic-like way to watch the game.

5. You Can Expect Great Access

As I mentioned above, Spring Training stadiums are much smaller than the stadiums where the teams usually play, and for fans, this is a huge benefit, since it offers greater access to their favorite players. Open practices on the surrounding fields take place in the morning and are free for fans to attend. Fewer members of the media cover pre-game activities, so these practices are a great chance for fans to take pictures and even ask for autographs. A bonus? The players are usually more laid-back after their winter break and are happy to see their fans.

In these scaled-down stadiums, there’s no such thing as a nosebleed seat. You’ll be up close and personal with the players no matter where your ticket takes you.

A spring training game in Florida.

6. A VIP Experience Is Worth Considering

If you really want to up the ante, consider a VIP experience. Many MLB teams, including the New York Yankees and the Saint Louis Cardinals, offer VIP vacation packages that include lodging, tickets, and exclusive meet-and-greets with players and coaching staff. The Los Angeles Dodgers even offer an adult baseball camp at their Spring Training home base. Yes, these experiences will cost you a pretty penny, but the perks just might be worth it.

If these experiences are a little too luxe for you, but you still want to upgrade, don’t worry: Most Spring Training stadiums offer all-inclusive packages at the ballpark. Go to the individual stadium website or team site to check out these additional options.

7. Sunscreen Is Essential

You’ve got your catcher’s mitt, home team gear, and camera ready to go, and you’re all set for your Spring Training game. While those items are all essential, you shouldn’t forget to bring sun protection as well.

It might be spring, but the sun is quite direct in both Florida and Arizona from February through April. Don’t make a rookie mistake and forget your sunscreen, floppy hat, and water! Most venues sell these items, but they’ll be marked up quite a bit.

Don’t risk ruining the rest of your trip with a nasty sunburn. Think ahead and don’t skimp on sun protection during your Spring Training adventure.

MLB baseballs at a spring training game.

8. You Can Make Other Plans -- Or Not!

The terrific thing about a Spring Training trip is that you can customize it to include as much -- or as little -- baseball as you want. It’s perfectly understandable if you want to stick close to your home team’s stadium and spend a few days really immersed in baseball heaven.

That said, both leagues are located in gorgeous parts of the country with many other things to see, do, and experience. For example, if you’re going to crisscross the state of Florida to follow a team, you could easily squeeze in a quick visit to Orlando or some quality beach time on the state’s coast. And since the Cactus League plays in and around Phoenix, it’s easy to book a spa break in nearby Scottsdale. You could even consider a side trip to the Grand Canyon -- it’s a 3.5-hour drive from Phoenix and the perfect destination to tack onto your trip.

The possibilities are endless, and with a bit of planning, your Spring Training trip will leave you with lifelong memories, both on the diamond and off. Let’s play ball!

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