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The Year Spring Training Changed Forever

If you were to pick a singular year in MLB history when the landscape of Spring Training was on the cusp of drastic change, you’d have to say it was 1997. Back then, in the spring of 1997, as the Yankees opened camp off the heels of their first World Series title since 1978, the Bronx Bombers were indeed embarking on a new modern era of historic stability. In fact, today, the Yankees remain one of only 13 MLB clubs that welcome the start of spring training 2013 in the same site as they did in 1997.
 
Since then, 17 MLB teams practice and host spring training games at different sites than they did in 1997. Among them, the two expansion teams, who wouldn’t even join until 1998, the Diamondbacks and (then Devil) Rays. Also since 1997, a total of 12 brand new spring training facilities have opened, and today they house 16 MLB teams, with six of the 12 sites built to house two teams in the same complex. At the same time, of the 11 sites that hosted spring training in 1997, only two have been demolished, which is a story unto itself. Yet while Arizona and Florida have each constructed six of these new sites a piece, five of Arizona’s sites are dual-use, which has enabled the Grand Canyon State to expand from eight member clubs in 1997 to hosting 15 today.
 
So, oh yes, what a spring training it was, back in 1997 before anyone had heard of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or even Monica Lewinsky. Sure, back in 1997, the pitching-rich Braves and playoff-inept Expos shared West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium, built in 1962, but not the way MLB teams do today, with endless practice fields adjacent to a sparkling, modern ballpark. Municipal Stadium was among three spring training ballparks in their swan song in 1997, victims to the launching of a new era that was to vastly change the landscape thanks to dual-use Peoria Stadium, built in the west suburbs of Phoenix only a few years earlier, which would be the blueprint for change.
 
The Brewers were also in their final year at Compadre Stadium in Chandler, Arizona in 1997 before opening shiny new Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix a year later. And while the Grapefruit circuit boasted 20 teams in 1997, Arizona’s poaching was on the immediate horizon. The White Sox were in their last spring in the Sunshine State in 1997, playing at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota before heading west to partner with the expansion Diamondbacks to open Tucson Electric Park together in 1998.
 
Make no mistake about it: 1997 marked the end of the old, rather basic and charmless spring training ballpark. The Braves and Expos saw greener pastures in the form of new Florida ballparks, in Kissimmee and Jupiter, respectively, to open in 1998. The Reds, meanwhile, were bidding adios to Plant City Stadium for a fresh start by the sea in Sarasota to replace the desert bound White Sox. Built less than 10 years earlier on a shoe string, Plant City’s rapid demise was a blatant warning sign of what was soon to follow for six other Grapefruit League ballparks that housed spring training in 1997. They would eventually become tenant-less, starting with Baseball City Stadium in Davenport, which hosted its last spring training game 10 years ago.
 
Here’s a team-by-team look at how the Grapefruit and Cactus circuit appeared in 1997 and how it compares to today:
 
GRAPEFRUIT LEAGUE (FLORIDA):
1997: 20 teams; 2013: 15 teams.
Training at the same place in 2012 as they did in 1997 (7 clubs): Yankees (Tampa), Blue Jays (Dunedin), Tigers (Lakeland), Twins (Fort Myers), Mets (Port Saint Lucie), Pirates (Bradenton) and Astros (Kissimmee).
Training in the same host city as they did in 1997 but in a new ballpark (2): Phillies (Clearwater) and Red Sox (Fort Myers).
Training in a different city than they did in 1997 (6): Braves (Kissimmee), Nationals (Viera), Cardinals (Jupiter), Marlins (Jupiter), Orioles (Sarasota) and Rays (Port Charlotte)
Spring training ballparks built or re-built since 1997 (6): Champion Stadium/Braves (1998); Roger Dean Stadium/Cardinals and Marlins (1998); Bright House Networks Field/Phillies; (2004); Charlotte County Sports Park (2009); Ed Smith Stadium/Orioles (2011); JetBlue Park/Red Sox (2012).
Former spring training sites and the last year they hosted an MLB team (8): West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium (demolished)/Braves and Expos (1997); Plant City Stadium/Reds (1997); Baseball City Stadium (demolished)/Royals (2002); Holman Stadium/Dodgers (2008); Chain of Lakes Park/Indians (2008); Al Lang Field/Rays (2008); Fort Lauderdale Stadium/Orioles (2009); City of Palms Park/Red Sox (2011).
 
CACTUS LEAGUE (ARIZONA):
1997: 8 teams; 2013: 15 teams.
Training at the same place in 2012 as they did in 1997 (6): A’s (Phoenix), Angels (Tempe), Giants (Scottsdale), Mariners (Peoria), Padres (Peoria), Cubs (who open a new spring training ballpark in Mesa in 2014, the same host city where they currently train).
Training in a different city than they did in 1997 (9): Diamondbacks (Scottsdale), Rockies (Scottsdale), Reds (Goodyear), Indians (Goodyear), Rangers (Surprise), Royals (Surprise), Brewers (Phoenix), Dodgers (Glendale), White Sox (Glendale).
Spring training ballparks built since 1997 (6): Maryvale Ballpark/Brewers (1998); Surprise Stadium/Rangers and Royals (2003); The Ballpark at Camelback Ranch/Dodgers and White Sox (2009); Goodyear Ballpark/Indians and Reds (2011); Salt River Fields at Talking Stick/Diamondbacks and Rockies (2011). * Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, formerly known as Tucson Electric Park/Diamondbacks and White Sox (1998) last hosted spring training in 2010.
Former spring training sites and the last year they hosted an MLB team (3): Compadre Stadium/Brewers (1997); Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, formerly known as Tucson Electric Park/Diamondbacks and White Sox (2010); Hi-Corbett Field/Rockies (2010).

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