The Tigers will celebrate their 71st year in Lakeland, Fla., this spring and their 42nd consecutive season of games at Joker Marchant Stadium. Except for three years during World War II, Lakeland has been the club's spring home every year since 1934, back when Hank Greenberg was a 23-year-old hotshot in his second Major League season and Mickey Cochrane was the catcher/manager. That sense of history is all around Tigertown, where the practice fields are named in honor of Hall of Famers.
As Tigers fans leave the wintry chill of Detroit and head south to check out the reigning AL champs in person, here's some information that should help:
Pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 15, with the first workout on Feb. 16. The rest of the squad reports on Feb. 20, with workouts on Feb. 21. When do games start?
The Tigers start their spring schedule with their annual exhibition game against Lakeland's own Florida Southern University on Feb. 27 at 1:05 p.m. ET. They face their first big-league competition the next day, when they visit Port St. Lucie to face the NL East champion Mets. The first Grapefruit League game comes March 1 against NL MVP Ryan Howard and the Phillies. How do I get tickets?
Tickets for all Tigers Spring Training games at Joker Marchant Stadium are available online, by phone at 866-66-TIGER or in person at the stadium box office.
A few years ago, stadium renovations raised the capacity to 9,000, including open seating on the left-field berm. While tickets are available on many game days, matchups with the Yankees and Braves tend to sell out, as do some weekend games, so you might want to consider buying those in advance.Where is Lakeland, and how do I get there?
Lakeland is almost midway between Tampa and Orlando off Interstate 4. Both cities have non-stop flights to and from Detroit. Tampa International Airport is just over a half-hour drive to Lakeland and closer than Orlando International Airport, which is on the other side of the city. If you're driving, it's basically a straight shot down I-75 until you get to I-4. To get to the ballpark from I-4, take exit 33. If you're exiting from eastbound I-4 (from Tampa), turn right onto southbound Route 33 once you reach the stoplight. If you're heading westbound on I-4 (from the Orlando area), turn left at the light onto Socrum Loop, then right at the "T" intersection onto Route 33 south. From there, Tigertown is a couple miles down on your left. Be sure to watch for the sign, because the stadium is set back slightly from the road and there's no traffic light at the turn. The stadium is on your left after that, and the training complex is behind the stadium. How can I watch the team work out?
Before the games begin, the Tigers work out in the morning on the four practice fields at the back of the complex, as well as on Al Kaline Field, just beyond left field from the stadium. Admission to the complex is free on non-game days, and you can watch the action from many of the fields.
In March, the Minor Leaguers often take over the practice fields for workouts and games, with the Major Leaguers taking practice and drills in the mornings on Kaline Field or in the stadium.
Where can I get autographs?
Once the Tigers have wrapped up their work for the day, they'll usually sign autographs on their way back to the clubhouse. The best place to ask is along the roped-off path between the practice fields and clubhouse. Once games begin, the best place in the ballpark for autographs is down the right-field line, since the clubhouses are right next to each other in the right-field corner. You can also try to catch players and coaches as they enter the clubhouse early in the morning or head home when they're done.
What else is there to do in Lakeland?
There's more to do than there used to be, even compared with a few years ago. Lakeland and Polk County are part of what has been called the "I-4 Corridor," which has seen an upswing in population and development in recent years. Much of that has filled in the north and south ends of the city. About a mile west of the ballpark -- or one exit west on I-4 -- is U.S. 98, along which rest a slew of restaurants and chain stores north of the interstate. Just as many eateries, stores and hotels can be found on the south side of the city, about 20-30 minutes from the ballpark, depending on traffic. In between, and about a couple miles south of the ballpark, is downtown Lakeland, which has seen a renaissance of its own with smaller restaurants and hotels. It's a walkable area with free parking in the evening.
The Tigers break camp following their March 31 game against the Yankees in Tampa and head home to Detroit, where they open regular season April 2 at Comerica Park against the Blue Jays at 1:05 p.m. ET.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less