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Under the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training Hardcover – March 4, 2009

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There is nothing in all of American sport quite like baseball's spring training. This annual six-week ritual, whose origins date back nearly a century and a half, fires the hearts and imaginations of fans who flock by the hundreds of thousands to places like Dodgertown to glimpse superstars and living legends in a relaxed moment and watch the drama of journeyman veterans and starry-eyed kids in search of that last spot on the bench. In Under the March Sun, Charles Fountain recounts for the first time the full and fascinating history of spring training.

A Dozen Milestones in Spring Training History

1869 New York politico William Marcy "Boss" Tweed sends the amateur New York Mutuals to New Orleans, the first recorded instance of a baseball teams heading south for spring training. No record exists of whether or not the trip was paid for with money Tweed extorted from city contractors, but that would be the smart-money bet.

1885 Cap Anson takes a newspaper reporter along when he brings the Chicago White Stockings to Hot Springs Arkansas. The news stories, and the White Stockings subsequent success, popularize the idea of southern spring training trips and soon all big league teams are taking them, with reporters along to send stories back to the chilly north.

1920s The Grapefruit League is born. Former St. Petersburg Mayor Al Lang works to consolidate all of spring training in Florida, attracting the Braves and the Yankees to his city, and helping attract nearly a dozen other major league teams to long-term spring home in other Florida cities.

1934 The Detroit Tigers train for the first time in Lakeland, Florida, where, but for the World War II years, they have trained ever since. It is the longest continuous association between a major league team and its spring training city.

1943-45 Wartime travel restrictions force Major League Baseball to hold spring training within fifty miles of teams' home cities.

1947 The Cleveland Indians and New York Giants move their spring trainings to Tucson and Phoenix Arizona, becoming the first teams to regularly train in Arizona, beginning what will ultimately become the Cactus League.

1948 The Brooklyn Dodgers hold spring training at an abandoned Naval Air Station in Vero Beach, Florida. The complex is soon known as Dodgertown, and the site will remain the team's home for 61 springs.

1952 The Chicago Cubs move their spring training to Mesa, Arizona, ending a 30-year stay on Catalina Island, California.

1965 Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley buys Dodgertown from the City of Vero Beach. He pays $130,000 for the stadium, practice fields, naval air barracks and 110 acres. The Dodgers become the only team to ever own its spring training complex. In 2001, under new ownership, the team will sell the complex back to the city and county, and lease it back for their final eight seasons in Florida.

1977 The Florida legislature passes a law allowing counties to impose a 1 or 2 percent Tourist Development Tax on hotel stays, the money to be used to stimulate and support tourism in the counties. In 1985, Osceola County uses money raised from this "bed tax" to build a new spring training complex for the Houston Astros. Over the next fifteen years, using bed-tax money, Florida will build or completely renovate fifteen different spring training complexes.

1991 Arizona passes a tax on car rentals in Maricopa County (Greater Phoenix), the money to be used for the construction and improvement of spring training facilities. The legislation and the improved facilities it brings stabilizes the Cactus League, which had feared extinction if it did not find a way to compete with the new, publicly built facilities of the Grapefruit League.

2009 Two new, two-team spring training complexes open in Glendale and Goodyear, Arizona, built with more than $150 million in public money. The Dodgers, Indians and Reds leave Florida to train in the new complexes; when the Reds arrive in Goodyear in 2010, the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues will have an equal number of teams for the first time in history.


"A revealing combination of sports and business history. Written in brisk, engaging prose, it sheds light from an unusual angle on American society, from demographic changes through race relations on to park construction in all its dimensions."--The Boston Globe

"In all, Fountain's words about the annual rites of spring training read like a poem, with historical context swept in at the appropriate times."--Tom Hoffarth, Los Angeles Daily News

"This book regularly reminds us that although spring training parks are getting bigger, although spring training prices are getting higher and although the spring training atmosphere is getting more impersonal, those diamonds in the roughs of Florida and Arizona still offer fans the best close-up look at baseball."--St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"This book is the perfect spring training companion. Take it with you to the berm at Lakeland's Joker Marchant Stadium, or the newly built boardwalks in Port Charlotte, where the Rays currently train. Settle in and read a few chapters in ancient McKechnie Field in Bradenton, or at the spanking clean facilities at Disney or at Jupiter's Roger Dean Stadium. It plays well at the Bright House complex in Clearwater or at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Pick any venue. It's a great read at all of them. "--Tampa Tribune.com

"Fountain, a journalism teacher at Northeastern University, has written that rare baseball book that also serves as a cultural history. He makes a convincing case for Al Lang, mayor of St. Petersburg before World War I, as the progenitor of spring training as we know it. 'Under the March Sun' has so much atmosphere you can smell the cocoa butter as you read."--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"A tremendous look at 'the story of spring training'... very enjoyable and succeeded in surveying one of the best parts of the baseball landscape."--Baseballbookreview.com

"A very detailed look at the business of spring training, with a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff. Especially interesting are things like the section on Boardwalk and Baseball, the short-lived theme park near Orlando that was once the Grapefruit League home of the Royals."--Worcester Telegram & Gazette

"Charles Fountain has captured the importance of spring training in baseball with Under the March Sun. I commend him for bringing to life this most enjoyable time of year for every baseball fan."--Peter O'Malley, President, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1970-98

"Where has this book been? Why has no one written it before? The poetry has oozed out of Florida and Arizona every February and March forever, rhapsodies about rebirth and sunscreen and the virtues of watching major-league ballplayers up-close while wearing a good pair of Bermuda shorts, but no one has chronicled the nuts, bolts and civic intrigues associated with baseball's spring training. Not the way Chuck Fountain has. Terrific stuff."--Leigh Montville, author of Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero and The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth.

"Definitive, fascinating, a ground breaking cultural and sports history of spring training from humble origins to mega million status today. A winner!"--Harvey Frommer, author of Remembering Yankee Stadium, and Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195372034
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195372038
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.1 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #638,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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This book starts out exceptionally well, talking about the early days of spring training. Cap Anson took his players to Hot Springs, Arkansas in the 1880s for steaming out winter alcohol because they reported "looking like aldermen." Later, under John McGraw, players started doing more drills, not just calisthenics and medicine ball work. Not too much later, all the teams were holding spring training in warmer climes, interrupted only by World War 2, when teams trained closer to home. (The Cubs went to French Lick, Indiana.)

The author also delves into the discrimination that black players faced in Florida. Very eye-opening.

Then, the book suddenly shifts from baseball to business talking, ad nauseam, about teams and Florida towns and their deal making. It really got tedious. I heard more about political maneuvering than I'd care to read about in a baseball book. The only thing certain about spring training is its inpermanence.

Not one of the better baseball books I've read, I'm afraid, though it should've been.
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Legend has it that way back in 1885, a Chicago White Sox player walked into a Windy City bar, his vest bursting at the buttons after an off-season full of lots of good living - albeit apparently not full of preparation for the upcoming season. This player proceeded to consume somewhere between six and eight beers in the presence of his manager, Cap Anson, who upon seeing this decided that a pre-season trip to the hot south would be just the thing to get his players in shape for the upcoming season.

However, legend isn't always fact, and the origins of spring training can be traced back even farther, to William Marcy "Boss" Tweed sent his team of amateurs, the New York Mutuals, to New Orleans prior to the 1869 season. But the fact that what is such an anticipated event today has a legend attached to it dating back some 114 years adds to the charm that is an annual right of passage into each new Major League season.

Like most things in baseball, the history behind spring training is much deeper and widespread that most people appreciate. What today is almost a formality given how well palyers take care of themselves in the off-season was a true necessity both in Anson's day and through the better part of the late 1970s. In Under the March Sun, Charles Fountain weaves together the varied stories of the not just the goings-on at spring training, but the teams and towns that have crossed paths over the last 100-plus years, and how what we are witnessing at this moment is the product of an ultra-competitive game of musical chairs with tens of millions of dollars at stake.

Fountain uses a fairly chronological approach to his book, starting with the very early days of spring training, and moving onto more current day arrangements which dominate the latter half of the book.
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I'll start off with what this book is not. It is not about baseball. A search for the word "curve" in the text of the book yields zero hits. Except for one short chapter at the end, there is little material in the book about actually playing a game of baseball-or training for it in the Spring.

Few players are mentioned, and almost none in a true baseball context. There is a bit of material such as Babe Ruth, and how he affected his teams choice of Spring Training locations (try to find one not too close to bars and brothels), but few details on individual players being developed, cut, traded, improved or motivated by Spring Training.

So what is the book about? The topic of the book is really the location of Spring Training. As a casual baseball fan, I had never really appreciated the extent to which teams change their Spring Training locations. And, as with the teams' home cities, the jockeying among states and municipalities for a spring team is fierce.

This rivalry, and what various governments will do to attract or keep a team is a fascinating story. What started off in the early 20th century as "maybe we can clean up that old army barracks and level one or two fields" has turned into 10,000+ seat stadiums, clubhouses, training and rehab centers, co-development with apartment complexes and shopping centers, city, county and state funding, special tax levies and countless other amenities.

There is quite a bit of material on the negotiations, behind the scenes deal-making, and some seemingly unscrupulous behavior on the part of both cities and teams. Certainly some local governments seem to practice some creative bookkeeping, while the teams are willing to play the municipalities off against each other...
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This book had more about the deals and transactions between teams and venues over the years - more so than I would have preferred. I care more for the history of the game. Still, it was an interesting book for baseball fans.
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I found it interesting and thought it would be fun to learn more about spring training. My mild disappointment was caused by the fact that it was much more about the business and politics -- various cities vying for teams; financial arrangements with cities and counties, etc. -- that it was about baseball, the sport. I guess a pithy summary was it's almost entirely about baseball, the business, as it is about baseball, the sport.
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