Zack’s Spring Training Experience


Eight games, four ballparks, two coasts, and one unforgettable week. Last month, through the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, I had the opportunity to cover Major League Baseball’s Grapefruit League Spring Training. This was a dream come true for me as an avid baseball fan. Getting to cover games and watch teams like the Houston Astros, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, and my beloved New York Mets among others is something that I won’t ever forget.


One of the parts I was most looking forward to on this trip was getting to see cities and stadiums that I had never seen before. The majority of my trip was spent on the East Coast of Florida, primarily in Jupiter and West Palm Beach. In these cities, I got to spend a large amount of time at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, as well as Roger Dean Stadium.

This was my first time at either of these ballparks, and I really enjoyed getting to walk around and enjoy the sights and sounds of these ballparks. While exploring, I got to see the team stores, seating areas, and food options. The food options at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches were some of my favorite, as the concessions were themed after the home cities of the stadium’s two tenants, the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals. I personally really like the “H-Town Bar and Grill” along the concourse on the first base side.

The part I really enjoyed about Roger Dean Stadium was that it is a stadium that’s home to two teams, but it doesn’t feel like that on game days. I attended a number of St. Louis Cardinals games in Jupiter, and you wouldn’t have known that the Miami Marlins also call that stadium home. Cardinals fans are known as some of the most passionate in baseball, and it showed during Spring Training. Getting to interact and talk baseball with such a knowledgeable group of fans was something I really enjoyed.

While I did also get to go to Steinbrenner Field, the Spring Training home of the New York Yankees, I’d have to say that my favorite ballpark that I visited was Clover Park in Port St. Lucie. As a lifelong Mets fan, getting to watch my favorite team play in their Spring Training home was special. It was only the second time I had been to a Mets Spring Training game, and the first time since 2018. Seeing a whole wall dedicated to David Wright, my all time favorite player, as well as murals of other Met greats like Mike Piazza and Keith Hernandez was amazing to see. In every way, being at Clover Park felt like I was back in New York, including getting to the stadium, as traffic turned a 45 minute drive to the ballpark into a near two-hour drive.


There were so many great individual moments on this trip that it’s hard to pick just a few of them. Of the countless moments that I enjoyed during this experience, there are two in particular that stand out.

One of these moments happened night one of this trip. The first game I attended was a game between the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. I took my younger brother and his roommate to this game with me, as they live in Delray Beach, just a short drive from the stadium. When his roommate left to get food, he left his glove at his seat. My brother and I decided to leave our seats and walk toward the left field bullpen. As soon as we got to the standing area by the bullpen, a foul ball came right toward us. With the glove on his hand, my brother moved up about five steps, caught the line drive, and without saying a word, gave it to the nearest kid in the area. He got fist bumps and thank you’s from parents, and right when he came back to me told me about what a great guy he was for giving a kid a foul ball. I’ve watched baseball with my brother my whole life, but this is the first time I remember something like this happening, and I just couldn’t believe that really happened.

The next moment is special to me. The last game that I covered during this trip was a game between the Mets and the Houston Astros at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on March 18. This was the final game that I covered, and it was also the only game that I got a media credential for. This was the first time that I got to stand on the back fields during batting practice, go on the field pregame, and of course watch the game from the press box. That night, I got to watch Max Scherzer, the ace of my favorite team, throw seven scoreless innings, and watch the Mets beat the Astros. The real highlight came after the game though. The Astros put on a fireworks show after the game, and I got to sit in the front row of the press box and enjoy the show. I felt like I was living in the Fourth of July fireworks scene from “The Sandlot” where the kids play baseball at night as the fireworks go off behind them. It truly was a “how can you not be romantic about baseball” type of moment.

What I Learned

I’ve heard the expression that a good story can come from just about anywhere, but I experienced how true that statement was during this trip. I learned this while coming up with an idea for a feature story. At Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, while I was standing by the left field bullpen during an Astros game, I noticed a family go and take pictures with the Astros World Series Championship signs on the wall. What was interesting was that this family took a picture with not only the 2022 World Championship sign, but also the 2017 World Championship sign. They were the first people that I saw take a picture with this sign, as the 2017 World Series Championship is associated with one of, if not the biggest cheating scandal in baseball history. When I saw them taking a picture by this sign, I knew I had to ask about it. Me asking about the 2017 World Championship sign led to a 45 or so minute conversation with a man named James, a lifelong Astros fan who was in Florida for Spring Training. We talked about the cheating scandal, the game we were watching, and bonded over our distain for the New York Yankees. It was because of this conversation that I decided to write about the Astros’ scandal, and it’s also where I learned that a good story really can come from anywhere.

Along with learning that I really could find a story anywhere, I learned how important it is to act like I belong. The game that I got a media credential for was the first time I’ve gotten a credential to cover a game. I was nervous when I got to the ballpark. I walked to the back fields to watch the minor league scrimmages, and figured everything would be fine if I just acted like I belonged there. I walked into the press box, walked onto the field, and nobody asked any questions. I had a credential (and made sure that people could see it) and just acted like I knew what I was doing, and nobody asked me any questions.

To Warp It Up

All-in-all, this is an experience that I’ll never forget. I gained a lot of experience, learned a lot that I can use in the future. I recommend anyone who goes into this experienced to be more prepared than you need to be. There were a few games that I went into wishing I was more prepared than I was. The Spring Training experience is definitely something that I would recommend doing, and I’m very thankful that I had the opportunity to take part in it.

About Zack Panariello

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