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Heading into the sun for spring training? Planning is the key to cutting costs

Nothing stirs the blood of baseball fans quite like “pitchers and catchers report.’’ The words mean players are reporting for duty in Florida and Arizona and spring training is about to bloom. The 30 major league teams begin workouts by the end of next week and play games every day in March.

Most die-hard fans dream of making at least one late-winter pilgrimage to Florida or Arizona to watch their favorite players and top prospects.

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For those about to make the trek, here are some tips for planning a trip that doesn’t strike out your savings:

Basics: Half the 30 Major League teams practice in Florida’s Grapefruit League, the other half in Arizona’s Cactus League. Go to Major League Baseball’s website; it has nifty maps showing where the teams are based in relation to each other, as well as a trip planner with driving directions.

You can find more hotel packages in Arizona. It’s also a golfer’s paradise.

Teams are much more spread out in Florida, so advance planning is more important, as is a rental car.

Find a master schedule and other useful information at http://springtrainingonline.com.

Airfares: Plan early, otherwise you can encounter really high fares. You should still be OK for a March trip. But don’t put off making reservations any longer.

Don’t forget Southwest Airlines’ website, since few travel sites sell the discount carrier’s tickets. (BookingBuddy is an exception.)

Leaving on a Saturday can help cut your airfare costs. Booking airfare first and hotel later is a common strategy, but not necessarily the best. Travelers who book both in one transaction save an average of $500, according to Expedia.

Lodging: Target a location that’s within walking distance of your team’s ballpark if possible, or within a reasonable drive of several. The big travel booking sites Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity can get you started.

Tourist hotels generally charge less Tuesday through Thursday. If you can fly only on weekends, look to big chain hotels that cater to business travelers, rather than resorts. The corporate hotels may have more rooms and better rates on weekends.

Consider time-share properties, vacation-home rentals, and condos as a way to get more space for your dollars. Having a kitchen or kitchenette can cut costs significantly. Visit Homeaway.com, Condodirect.com, or VRBO.com.

Packages: Team websites often offer package deals. Check resorts and hotels, too.

Tickets: Buy them early, especially for popular teams.

Field-level box seats commonly run $25 to $30 or more. At the Boston Red Sox’s brand-new JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., it costs $35 to sit on the faux Green Monster.

Dave Carpenter can be reached at www.twitter.com/scribblerdave.
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