Under the March Sun by Charles Fountain tells the story of baseball’s spring training past and present. He talks about the money, politics, and big business of local towns competing to lure and keep a professional team in March. Under the March Sun presents a well researched narrative on the microcosm of Major League Baseball that takes place each year in Florida and Arizona.
Spring training comes on like a major tease in late February with the arrival of pitchers and catchers. With the Super Bowl barely past, residents of the North grow tired of the cold weather and the snow. They look forward to following their teams south to Florida and Arizona to revel in the anticipation of another season. The young eagerly peer to catch their first glimpse of baseball heroes, and the old reminisce about former players.
The first 80 or 90 years of spring training did not take place in the warmest most southern states, nor did they attract huge fan followings. It wasn’t until the mid-'80s that large crowds started following their teams south. Prior to the '80s it was about how to minimize the money loss — now it is about maximizing profit.
Charles Fountain takes us back to the earliest beginnings of spring training in the late nineteenth century. He tells the stories, the myths, and shenanigans pulled by the players. He corrects some myths and adds credence to others. For instance, he debunks the myth that Cap Anson started spring training in the South; instead he credits “Boss” Tweed of New York politics for sending his New York Mutuals to New Orleans for spring training in 1869.
From there Fountain takes us to the early twentieth century, and tells the story of Al Lange’s love affair with baseball that brought the St. Louis Browns to St. Pete in 1914. They played one game against the Cubs, and then moved to Texas the following year. Almost every year since then, St. Pete has enjoyed the benefits of a spring training team. Although now St. Petersburg no longer hosts a spring training team, they host their own major league team, the Tampa Bay Rays.
Throughout the book, Fountain provides a detailed spring training history for the Dodgers including their 60-year residency at Dodgertown in Vero Beach. Not only was their length of stay unique, but they also owned the facilities and land, both rarities among spring training teams. The Dodgers purchased the property in an attempt to minimize segregation problems encountered in Florida. Jackie Robinson began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles for the 1958 season.
In Chapter 4, “A Sportswriter Helps to End Separate but Hardly Equal,” Fountain discusses the struggle of African Americans in baseball. His rendition on the topic differs from others in that it specifically focuses on Spring Training, and problems encountered in Florida. In 1947, no MLB team existed in the South. Florida culture had not yet become accustomed to the concept of desegregation.
“Fields of Broken Dreams,” Chapter 10, depicts two failed attempts by Florida cities to establish Spring Training facilities. The first was Homestead, which built a facility for the Cleveland Indians. The second failed attempt was Baseball City and the Boardwalk and Baseball amusement park. The Kansas City Royals enjoyed playing at Baseball City, but circumstances went against them.
Most people know about the Citrus League in Florida, and some people know about the Cactus League in Arizona, but how many people know about the interest of Las Vegas in bringing spring training to Nevada? So far Major League sports have been wary of professional athletics being that close to the gambling capital. Vegas believes spring training would be the way to gain acceptance. In order for that to work, Las Vegas would need to pull at least four teams in from Florida and Arizona to be successful.
Arizona has hosted spring training since the '50s, but in 1998 they started providing funding, and began actively pursuing major league teams. They now have 11 stadiums, and host 15 major league teams. Fountain devotes several chapters to the Cactus League, and the achievements of Maricopa County in providing excellent modern facilities.
In addition to the cities, teams, management, and superstars, Fountain draws your attention to the minor league players. He makes you feel the pain of the players that don’t make the cut. About 20 players each spring don’t make their team because of injuries, trades, or being sent home. Across the league several hundred cut players face major disappointment on opening day.
Fountain provides an informative, well-documented book on spring training. He conducted many interviews to get information from many different perspectives. A former sports journalist, he now teaches journalism at Northeastern University.