Spring training is the ultimate tease — we get the allure that baseball is returning before quickly remembering that this is barely baseball. Boys wear numbers like 79 and 64, playing against people we have never heard of who will never make it to the majors. The element of competition is all but divorced from the sport, eliminating one of the essential features of baseball and sport in general. The game indulges its pastoral roots in full and is more of a leisure time activity than a true game. It is practice.
That said, you should absolutely go. I went for the first time last year so I am not an expert by any means. But it was fun, and it happened like this:
We arrived in Florida, I think Orlando. They gave us a strange rental car (we got a Mustang for the price of the cheapest option since they ran out of cars?). We drove to a hotel somewhere in Orlando near Disney. There were kaleidoscopic people everywhere who were surely bound for Harry Potter World. I never knew exactly where I was, but somehow I always managed to drive there. The driving is by far the worst part.
We ate at restaurants punctuated by a few snacks kept in the hotel. Every restaurant was like if Applebee's mated with the style of restaurant in question. There was a tapas place that felt like Applebee's; a Mexican place that felt like Applebee's; and a seafood place that felt like Applebee's. I never went to Applebee's, but I have a strong suspicion what it would've been like had I gone.
We slept in hotels with air conditioning that runs in March. I woke up and ran because it is was warm outside and there was no snow. We spent one day going to the beach. It is crucial to swim in the ocean and if you manage to do so before April, you are very much ahead of the game. We ate seafood in a coastal city and the restaurant did not seem like Applebee's. We drank a large American lager while laying in the sand.
The baseball itself is wondrous in person. You can go to Joker Marchant Stadium and sit in the outfield. This is the cheapest option and it involves eating hot dogs, drinking beer, laying in the sun and sitting on the grass. To sit on grass somehow seems very exotic and extravagant. This year, you will get to see J.D. Martinez or Justin Upton up close for a while until you end up simply hanging out, looking at Tyler Collins. You will sweat in the sun, an unfathomable phenomenon 20 hours prior.
You can also check out another stadium. The Mets are around, as are the Astros, Twins and others. We went to a game at Disney against Atlanta. We splurged for one nice pair of tickets in the fifth row behind home plate. Justin Verlander was pitching, and Dave Dombrowski sat with Jim Leyland five seats down from us. I tried desperately not to stare at Dombrowski writing notes on a legal notepad, presumably scribbling, "The bullpen will be fine" over and over again until it became true.
Atlanta's Shelby Miller got bombed and did not make it out of the first inning. Verlander was good and effective before he would later get injured. I have no idea who won. After a few days of watching fake baseball and eating in fake restaurants in strip malls, the shine faded and we flew home in a metal falcon weighing thousands of pounds that somehow stayed up in the sky.
In the end, spring training is just fun. The games don’t matter, but it is very close to being actual baseball. The best part is that you are surrounded by people who love the Tigers as much as you. You realize you have a baseball problem when the six-and-a-half month season is somehow not adequate.
Everyone in the stadium has agreed: there should be more baseball than there is, and we will pay to see something that is the next best thing. You all get to sit together in a small stadium watching big leaguers, toast winter dying, and renew hope for the season. This year, the bullpen will be fine.