Photo Credit: NBC Sports / Boston

Spring Training marks more than just the start of the baseball season. It’s a time for hope, and more importantly, it’s a time to make some memories

The caravan has left Fenway for Fort Myers and the beginning of baseball season is upon us. For years the motto in Red Sox Nation was “wait till next year.” While generations of fans are no longer starved to see the Sox win a World Series before they die, the new baseball season gives fans of every team some hope that this will be the year.

Spring Training is the ultimate time for hope and for new beginnings. David Ortiz was that guy in 2003 – bursting onto the scene and blossoming into a Hall of Fame DH. More than anything, spring is the start to something we’ve all been waiting for since that last at-bat to end the season prior…

The magic of Spring Training includes all of these things. The hope. The prospects. The new guys on the team. It’s also a time where no matter your age, you can truly get lost in all things baseball.

Arriving at Fenway Park is a magical experience, but the fan-friendly Jet Blue Park offers an entirely different experience. There are fields just outside the main stadium, fans can easily wander over in the morning before the game and catch their favorite players taking BP or throwing bullpen sessions.

The experience is unlike anything for kids. They’ll likely get a baseball from a player – whether it be from Mookie Betts, or Ben Taylor, the memory is unforgettable. The same with autographs. Players love to put a smile on kids’ faces with an authentic autograph on a jersey, card, hat, or other item.

Just be sure to say please and thank you!

Spring Training is also the best time to take photographs of your favorite players. Every seat is a good one and the rules are far more relaxed than you’ll find them during the regular season. Players and coaches are approachable and you probably won’t even need to use the zoom feature to get a great action shot or close up of your favorite star.

I’m sure my love for the game would have found me regardless, but it was Spring Training that gave me my first glimpse of how truly special this game is.

Spring Memories:

I was born and raised in South Florida and growing up in the 1980’s we had the Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos training every Spring in my hometown.

I have plenty of childhood memories of Dale Murphy and Gary Carter and Tim Raines, but it was the week long trip to see my grandmother every year during Spring Break from school that provided my favorite childhood memories.

In 1990, my favorite player, Jim Rice, was pulled from a Spring game against the Pirates after striking out three times and watched the rest of it from a folding chair in the bullpen behind the fist base line. The next inning a foul ball was hit into the bullpen and landed at Rice’s feet. He waved a young boy down to the bullpen gate to toss him the ball – that was me.

I went back to my seat to show my father and ask for a pen. I was determined to get Jim Rice to sign my ball! I went back to the bullpen gate and asked the legendary Johnny Pesky if Mr. Rice would kindly sign it for me. After a brief conversation between Rice and Peskey, Johnny came back with the ball unsigned and said that Mr. Rice wanted to let me know: “that ball there isn’t for autographs. That ball is meant to be played with, because some day you won’t be able to play anymore”.

A week later Jim Rice was left off of the Red Sox roster. A week after that he officially announced his retirement from baseball. I played with that ball everyday until the seems split and it could no longer be played with.

Spring Training yields a life full of memories and experiences that fans will never forget.

The calendar is changing. Hope is in the air. Baseball season is upon us. Spring Training is here, which means it’s the best time of the year!