Spring TrainingBy Eileen Ogintz

Even if you’re not a huge baseball fan, you’ve got to love spring training.

The tickets are cheap enough that you don’t feel guilty if the kids get antsy and you leave before the game is over.

The parks are smaller, the food cheaper and you might get close enough for those who are big baseball fans in your gang to get an autograph. In Arizona, you can see half of the Major Leagues’ 30 teams play — all within 50 miles surrounding Phoenix.

In a new report, the hotel booking site Trivago.com notes that searches for lodging near spring training sites in Florida — particularly Orlando, Panama City Beach and Daytona Beach — increased significantly from the winter months. Trivago compares rates on more than 700,000 hotels through more than 200 hotel booking sites.

There are plenty of hotel packages to defray the cost. And there’s plenty else to do when you’re not at the ballpark, whether you head to Florida  or Arizona to see your favorite team play.  Take your pick of theme parks, unique museums, hiking trails and just lazing at resort pools.  (Check out the Taking the Kids Super Spring Break section for ideas.  Here’s just a sample of what you can do when you’re not at the ballpark:

  • After watching the Yankees play in Tampa, you can head to Bush Gardens Tampa to visit the state of the art Animal Care Center where you can watch how the park’s vets take care of the animals that live here — even surgeries.
  • Take a break from the sun—and baseball—to visit the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, a huge building housing nearly 15,000 instruments from around the world and where kids can take their pick of trying a Chinese gong, drums, harps or ukuleles. They’ll hear how all of these instruments sound too, thanks to the latest technology.
  • Check out the blooming Cacti in the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix where you also have your pick of bike and hiking trails, golf courses and gargantuan resort pools. Greater Phoenix is in the Sonoran Desert, which is one of the wettest and greenest deserts in North America.  Maybe you want to take a jeep tour of the desert?
  • Learn some Native American songs during Native Trails, presented by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and produced by the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, at Scottsdale Civic Center Park. These are free lunchtime concerts! Scottsdale, is home to the San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, and Arizona Diamondbacks, but there are also 200 golf courses,  spas and water play areas at resorts to satisfy every kid — and grownup!
  • When you’ve had enough baseball in Fort Myers, Fla, home to the World Champion Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins, go fishing, hunt for shells on Sanibel Island, or learn to sail.
  • Get your theme park fix when you see the Atlanta Braves play since their spring training home is at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in the middle of Walt Disney World (If you’re heading to Orlando with kids, pack my Kid’s Guide to Orlando with plenty of tips from local kids!)

Just make sure you’ve got a ball and permanent marker handy — just in case you run into your favorite player.