Spring training is right around the corner. If you’re planning a trip to warm sunny Florida in March with hopes of seeing your favorite team up close and personal, I’d recommend that you obtain Alan Byrd’s “Florida Spring Training: Your Guide to Touring the Grapefruit League”.

This book gives you a short introduction to the history and traditions of spring training, and then goes on to review each of the seventeen ballparks in the Grapefruit League. Not only does it provide the necessary information like the address, directions, parking, ticket prices and availability, but the author also tries to capture the feel for each ballpark. He reviews the seating, shade availability, food and drink, souvenirs, autograph friendliness, other ballpark attractions, and how close you feel to the game and players. There is even a list of nearby hotels and lists of restaurants, activities, and attractions that are nearby for before and after the games.

After reviewing each of the seventeen ballparks, the author ranks each of them based on the five categories; intimacy, autographs, comfort, food, and style. The Dodgers Holman Stadium in Vero Beach rated tops, while the Devil Rays Progress Energy Park in St. Petersburg rated last. But, fear not Devil Rays fans, this is spring training baseball we are talking about here. It’s kind of like rating your top ten favorite flavors of ice cream. They are all good!

The last section of the book lays out five separate week long Florida vacation itineraries that will take you to multiple spring training ballparks and other Florida vacation attractions.

So how did our Cincinnati Reds spring training site stack up? Well, they rated fourteenth out of the seventeen ballparks. Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota is described as a “nondescript ballpark” for which “there is little to say ‘Wow!’ about”. The box seats are close to the diamond, there are a few bleachers, and a little bit of shade available. Tickets are fairly easy to get for most games, but buy in advance for a Yankees or Red Sox game. The program is one of the tops in Spring Training. The “Big Red Smokey” is the highlight of “some of the best food in the Grapefruit League”. The food and drink is described as being the “best thing about Ed Smith Stadium”. Autograph seekers will be disappointed however, since “Ed Smith Stadium was designed to allow the players to avoid autograph seekers.”

I can’t go this year, but next year I plan to be in those box seats with a program, a “Big Red Smokey”, and an ice cold imported beer. I want to make it to Ed Smith Stadium before the Reds have their new stadium built across the street from current one by 2010.

Be sure to get a copy of Alan Byrd’s “Florida Spring Training: Your Guide to Touring the Grapefruit League”, which can be found on Amazon, to aid you in planning your Florida Spring Training vacation. I think you’ll find it to be valuable tool and a fun read.