Spring Training Has Arrived!

added 2/23/2007 by Gene Elston

Gene Elston accepting the Ford C. Frick Award
Cooperstown, NY, July 30, 2006

Shut off the Hot Stove Leagues. Though it may be gloomy and dank it still holds promise for better things to come. The vestiges of winter are beginning to disappear, the thoughts of green grass, flowers, the return of the birds we have missed throughout the past three months, the soft summer winds, the warm sunshine, all the above harbingers of SPRING.

This is the beginning of another nine months of our revered National Pastime – SPRING TRAINING has arrived and soon we will be hearing the call of PLAY BALL!

Our own Houston Colt .45s / Astros are in their 46th season in the majors. Looking back to 1962 it isn’t hard to remember that first group arriving at Apache Junction, Arizona for their two seasons’ stay. Then it was on to Cocoa, Florida for 21 years, then up the road to present day Kissimmee. Yeh-Gads! Has it really been 23 seasons around Disney World?

Spring training today is not the same as when it all started in the early 1870s. Today’s players, for the most part, have their bodies in shape compared to the "Olden Days". Now, it’s mostly fine-tuning. In early baseball, some players reported out-of-shape, some overweight by a winter of loafing or dissipating. That eventually awakened owners to go South and get the athletes in shape for the long season ahead - call it Spring Training.

It was 1870 when the first teams to go south were the Chicago White Stockings and the New York Mutuals to New Orleans. This was not spring training as we know it today, but it was an exercise of shedding some pounds and getting the wind back. Spring training grew slowly throughout the 1870s and 80s. and by the new century all major league teams were beginning to establish spring bases.

With the already-established National League in place since 1876, 1901 brought the American circuit to a major league total of 16 teams. That first spring the Boston Beaneaters trained at Norfolk, Virginia, the Chicago Orphans at Champaign, Illinois, the Brooklyn Superbas at Charlotte, N.C., Pittsburgh at Hot Springs, Arkansas, the Boston Somersets at Charlottesville, Virginia, the Washington Nationals at Phoebus, Virginia, the Chicago White Stockings at Excelsior Springs, Missouri and the Baltimore Orioles at St.Louis. However, some teams remained at their home bases, the Cardinals, Giants, Phils, Reds, Athletics, Cleveland Blues, Milwaukee Brewers and Tigers.

The next couple of years all the teams began moves to warmer states, Georgia, California, the Carolinas, Louisiana and Alabama, but the most startling move was by the Cardinals in 1903 to Dallas as their spring training site.

That opened the gates for other teams to choose Texas as their spring homes. For the next 20 years the Lone Star State played host to nine major league teams. The New York Giants settled in for 11 straight years at Marlin Springs (1908-1918), then the Giants jumped to Gainesville, Florida in 1919, missed the Texas hospitality, and returned in 1920 for six more springs (1921-22), this time to San Antonio. The Giants moved to Sarasota, Florida and Augusta, Georgia for a time but were back in San Antonio for three more years (1929-30-31). The 17 springs the Giants spent in Texas is the most of any of the major league clubs. The White Sox were close with 15 years spaced out between 1904 and 1932 with stops at Marlin Springs, Mineral Wells, Waco, Waxahachie, Seguin, Dallas and San Antonio.

The St. Louis Cardinals were in Texas in 14 different seasons beginning in 1903 at Dallas then moving to Houston in 1904 for a one-year stand. That season was an interesting year for Texas in relation to spring training - along with the Cardinals in Houston, four other teams would train in the Lone Star State in 1904 - Cincinnati at Dallas, the Cleveland Blues at San Antonio, the Browns at Corsicana and the White Sox at Marlin Springs. Houston would host St. Louis again for five consecutive springs (1906-1910), but the city was without a team until 1914 when the Yankees spent the spring in Houston.

Houston was without a team in 1915-16-17 or were they? The Cardinals after leaving Houston following 1908 held their workouts for the next six years in Arkansas, Indiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida. The team was back in Texas in 1915 for a three-year stay at Hot Wells – but where was Hot Wells? After intense research we discovered Hot Wells was in northwest Harris County in the Cypress area! Perhaps Houston had already signed a contract with the St. Louis Browns for 1915 so the Cardinals moved their camp to the Houston "suburbs" - perhaps? Anyway, Houston never hosted another spring training franchise.

However, Houston, then a member of the Texas League, and always a great stop for major league teams during spring training, played host at Buff Stadium on February 21, 1931 to the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants. It was the first time two major league teams played under the lights. During the 1930 season Waco was the first in the Texas League to install lights. Before that season ended, Houston, San Antonio and Shreveport were playing night games. The first night game in the majors was held in 1935.

Following is a list of Texas cities and town that have played host to major league clubs during spring training: Brownsville, Cisco, Corsicana, Dallas, Eagle Pass, Galveston, Hot Wells, Houston, Marlin Springs, Mineral Wells, New Braunfels, Orange, Palestine, St. Augustine, San Antonio, Seguin, Waco and Waxahachie.

Copyright (c) 2007, Gene Elston