One of the first steps in preparing for the next season, the Indians announced their Spring Training schedule last week with tickets going on sale December first. This is the first chance to see the 2018 Cleveland Indians, although the actual team is far from being complete.
This time around, fans can watch the Indians at the earliest date since 2013 as pitchers and catchers report on February 14th with the first game being played on February 23rd. As always, the Indians will begin and end the Spring season against their cross state rivals, the Cincinnati Reds, who share the facility, but for the second year in a row they will play just one game instead of a series. For the season as a whole, they’ll play the Reds five times, up from three last year.
In addition to the season starting earlier than normal, it will end about a few days earlier than normal as well, wrapping up things at Chase Field on March 27th. This is due to the new MLB policy where all teams will share Opening Day rather than having a single game to start the new season. After two with the Diamondbacks at their Major League field, the Indians will head to the safety of Seattle’s dome on March 29th to begin the regular season. To avoid any weather conflicts, there still won’t be a home game in Cleveland until April 6th against Kansas City.
Looking at February and March however, there will be no such weather worries in Goodyear. With highs in the mid-80°’s in February and up to nearly 100° in March, it is generally about two months worth of perfect baseball weather.
Taking advantage of the sunshine, the Indians will be playing the majority of their games at 1:05 PM local time as is usual, but things will be a little bit different as the team rolls into the middle of the month. From March 7th through the 9th Goodyear Ballpark will host three straight night games with three more scheduled in the final week from March 19th through the 23rd. Since the Indians moved to Goodyear in 2009, night games have been by far the most popular, nearly doubling the average attendance of day games. In fact, the only other driver of attendance that comes within 2,000 fans of the average night game is when the Cubs come to Goodyear and that number includes a couple of night games.
Last season, the ballpark broke single game attendance records for both the Reds and Indians while playing the Cubs at night and they will attempt to do the same in 2018. On March 7th, the Indians will play their first of four home night games against the Cubs, then the Reds will do the same on March 19th. All the Indians night games are likely to be a tough ticket as they play the second most popular team in Arizona, the Dodgers, on the 8th, then the Diamondbacks on the 23rd.
The Indians only game to start after 1:05 PM will be a unique one as they head to Las Vegas for two more games against the Cubs. Last season the Indians took a two day trip to Texas in the middle of Spring Training while the Reds went to Nevada to play the Cubs. This time the Indians will play at 4:05 at Cashman field on March 17th, then 1:05 PM on March 18th. If you’re in central Arizona and don’t want to take the 4.5 hour drive to Vegas, the Indians will also be playing split squad games at Mesa (against the Cubs) and Peoria (against the Mariners) on both days.
The Indians are also split squad on February 28th against Seattle (at home) and the Angels (in Tempe) and March 11th against Kansas City (in Surprise) and Milwaukee (at home). Unfortunately all of these games are day games so fans will not have the ability to take in an all Cleveland, two stadium double header this year.
In an odd scheduling quirk, the Indians will have two days off rather than the typical one. While they had two scheduled off days last year, that was due to the extended Spring season thanks to the World Baseball Classic. This year, they have both March 13th and March 20th off. What makes this especially strange is that the Reds are also off on the 13th and will be on the road in Peoria on the 20th, making two full days without baseball at Goodyear Ballpark, something that almost never happens during March. Because of this, it may make more sense to plan a trip to Arizona to avoid these dates although there is plenty to do in the state beyond baseball. In particular, a trip to Sedona is always worthwhile and is only two hours away from Goodyear.
In addition to the night games, which all come with a two hour happy hour prior to first pitch, the Indians will have fireworks on March 23rd against Arizona and catch on the field on March 14th against the Angels. They have yet to announce if there will be a dual bobblehead day, something that has happened each of the last three seasons.
If nothing else, just thinking about the Spring shows how close we are to the next season of Indians baseball. We’ve entered the time where we can look at all the different countdowns as the Goodyear team shop opens on January 13th, pitchers and catchers report on Valentine’s Day, then the season starts on February 23rd.