It's a ritual that you can count on every year and, like the return of leaves to the trees and the swallows to Capistrano, the start of Major League Baseball's spring training lets people know that spring has sprung and summer isn't too far behind.
Every February, at about the middle of the month, spring training for every team in the MLB starts in earnest and continues until the Opening Day of the regular season, which has traditionally been the first week in April. During that time all MLB teams will be auditioning their new players, who will fight for spots on the roster and the chance to "play in the major leagues".
Each team plays a number of exhibition games as well, which not surprisingly always draws a lot of fan attention. It's not too difficult to understand because, as the teams hold their spring training in southern states of either Florida or Arizona, the warmer weather there is a big attraction for people around the country who have been missing baseball and are sick of the cold.
Because of their need to jell as the most important two men on the team, all pitchers and catchers start spring training first, arriving a few days earlier so that they can benefit from the extra days of practice. All of the "position players" begin to arrive a few days later and start working out the winter kinks, getting to know each other and of course preparing for the regular season to come.
It's normal during spring training for all MLB players to wear their batting practice uniforms during training and during exhibition games, and it isn't until Opening Day that there regular uniforms, caps, helmets and so forth are put into use.
Of all the current major league teams still playing, the Philadelphia Phillies were actually the first to hold their spring training in Florida. That was way back in 1889 and they practiced in the northern city of Jacksonville. By 1914 Florida had become a major hub for spring training, and the Phillies were joined by the Chicago Cubs, the Cleveland Indians and a few others.
In fact, so many teams started hosting their spring training in Florida (and practicing against each other while they were there) that they decided to give it a name, calling it the Grapefruit League due to the fact that grapefruits are very popular in the state.
Today the Grapefruit League hosts a veritable Who's Who of Major League Baseball teams that play on the United States' East Coast, giving Floridians easy access to a plethora of MLB exhibition games for an entire month.
While the Grapefruit League was beginning at the turn of the last century in Florida, on the West Coast something very similar was happening in the great state of Arizona, where most of the West Coast MLB teams as well as others from the central part of the country had begun hosting their spring training due to the fact that, just like Florida, Arizona has lots of warm weather during the early months of the year.
Of course, unlike Florida, grapefruits don't grow in Arizona, but there are however an abundance of cacti to be found most everywhere in the state and thus the Cactus League was born.
Whether they play in the Grapefruit League or the Cactus League, none of the statistics During spring training games are combined with the "real" statistics that MLB players rack up during the regular season.
In fact, even when an accomplishment is made during spring training that would have broken some sort of MLB record, it's still considered unofficial and not part of MLB stats in any way.
For spectators and fans it doesn't really matter however, they're just glad that baseball's back and with it one of America's best loved sports. If you happen to be lucky enough to live in either Florida or Arizona during the months of February and March, or you just can't wait to get your fill of Major League Baseball, the spring training Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues will certainly give you something to smile about.