Spring Training on Spring Break

Spring Training on Spring Break

TAMPA, FL - Who would have thought Plant City would be a popular spring break destination?

Come to the winter strawberry capital throughout the month of March and you’ll see thousands of college kids here visiting. For the ninth consecutive year, they’ll be here for the National Club Baseball Association and National Club Softball Association’s Spring Training Showcase, which starts March 1 and ends March 30. So, for baseball and softball fans, next month will provide almost limitless opportunities to catch these sports live.

“There are only two days in that entire span where we’re not playing any games,” NCSA Director Savannah Ahrens says. “It’s March 5 and March 7, but we’ll be having practices.”

Most of the action will take place at Mike Sansone Park, but an expansion to include 70 teams means there will be more games scheduled than fields available on some days. In those cases, there will be some action at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recreational Center’s fields.

“We fill every time slot at Mike Sansone during our busiest weeks, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Ahrens says. “We’ve been looking for additional fields, like MLK, to accommodate our growth.”

FAMILIAR FACES
Plant City, to Ahrens and her colleagues at governing body CollClubSports, is the perfect place to hold this type of event.

“The awesome thing is that Plant City provides us with an awesome venue for the games and practices, and Tampa provides that spring break atmosphere that college kids love,” she says. “But they’ll stay here during the Strawberry Festival because the teams that come during the first week love to go to that.”

According to information provided by Assistant Director Kelsey Detweiler, that’s a lot of college kids going through the festival’s gates. The showcase is expected to draw more than 1,750 athletes to the area, not including the spectators they’ll bring. On top of hosting some Florida teams, fans can also expect to see teams from states such as Colorado, Michigan, New York and North Dakota. Using 2009 data, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission estimates that teams and spectators spent roughly $1.37 million in the Plant City/Tampa area that March — a number that will increase now that the playing field has expanded to 70 teams.

Many of the teams end up staying in Plant City hotels, though a few elect to stay in Tampa and make the drive to Mike Sansone Park when needed. According to Ahrens, the teams that do stay here enjoy it.

“A couple of years ago, we used the Red Rose,” Ahrens says. “The teams absolutely loved Red Rose, so it was unfortunate when we heard that the hotel closed down. Now we’re using Best Western, within walking distance to the field, and they’re excited about hosting the teams. The players like it there, and they don’t think the drive to the beach is that far at all.”

So, exactly who are these college kids?

IN-BETWEENERS
For the most part, these teams are not made up of a mish-mash of college athletes who individually registered online. Other than the Free Agent team, each squad in this showcase will represent its corresponding school on the club level — not NCAA teams, but not intramural teams, either.

“To play on one of these teams, you have to be enrolled full-time and meet specific academic requirements,” Ahrens says. “All of the teams are from one college, so Western Michigan’s team is all made up of WMU players.”

Because the tournament takes place during every school’s spring break, there will be a completely different set of teams in town each week. In addition to all of the complete club teams, there will be a Free Agent team for the first few weeks — a compilation of players from teams that could not bring all of their players, plus some alumni who still want to play ball. Plenty of big names will be on hand, such as Pitt, Penn State, Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Ohio State, Florida, UCF and Florida Gulf Coast.

Complete schedule listings can be found on plantcityobserver.com, and more information can be found at collclubsports.com.

Contact Justin Kline at jkline@plantcityobserver.com.

SEE FOR YOURSELF
Baseball teams will arrive March 1, and games begin March 2 at Mike Sansone Park. Western Michigan will play a doubleheader on Field 8: first against UNC-Charlotte at 11:30 a.m. and then against Florida Tech at 2 p.m. March 10 is the first day in which the action overflows into the MLK fields.

Softball’s schedule is not as big: The teams arrive March 11 and 12 and kick off at Mike Sansone March 13. There will be four back-to-back games that day, starting with Pitt-EIU and NIU-Colorado at 2 p.m.

For a complete schedule of games, click here.