The relaxed laid-back atmosphere of the Washington National's Spring Training in Melbourne.
Spring Training is here.
Baseball is back.
Anyone who follows this beautiful game knows that there's a freshness about the start of the season. It's a time when every team - no matter where they ended up last season - has a chance this season. There's hope, even for the Chicago Cubs.
And each year around this time, thousands of fans flock to Florida to catch games, see their favorite players and, for some, escape the sub-zero temperatures of their Northern homes.
Spring Training has a different vibe than the regular season. Around Florida's Grapefruit League ballparks, players make time for the fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures. The stadiums are small, and from the lower deck box seats it feels as if you're coaching first base.
Sure, the games don't count. And most of the star players are only on the field for a few innings. But it's baseball, there's hot dogs and beer and summer is just around the corner.
To get a glimpse of Spring Training in Florida, we took four days and visited four ballparks in Central Florida: Washington Nationals' Space Coast Stadium in Melbourne, Houston Astros' Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Detroit Tigers' Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland and Atlanta Braves' Champion Stadium at Walt Disney World.
During the tour, we met old fans, young fans, new fans and die-hard fans who haven't missed Spring Training since Ronald Reagan was in office. Because baseball, for all its controversies with steroids, its high-salaried players and sometimes greedy owners, has always been for the fans. Without the 70-year-old season-ticket holder, the group of guys making a cross-country trek to see every ballpark and the family of four taking a night out, Major League Baseball doesn't exist.
And so fans, and the fan experience, are the focus of this Spring Training in Florida project.
For the first stop, we go to Melbourne for the Washington Nationals' Spring Training Opening Day.
If you missed the other stops in our series, see them here: