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Not only is February the shortest month of the year, it's also salvation for baseball fans whose eyes and ears turn towards Florida and Arizona for the annual rite of passage known as Spring Training and the opportunity for fans to get a head start on America's favorite pastime. It also offers travelers a chance to take advantage of low fares, good hotel deals and the warm weather. They don't call them the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues for nothing. Bring your baseball gloves and suntan lotion.

A good place to start planning your trip is Spring Training Magazine (www.springtrainingmagazine.com). The no frills website lists training sites, stadiums, ticket information, directions, schedules, local restaurants and hotels and a host of player personnel reports. For official information, head to Major League Baseball's Spring Training jump page.

For you Chicago Cub fans, your squad warms up their arms at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Arizona. They open their spring season against the Oakland A's in Phoenix on Thursday, March 3. Seating capacity at HoHoKam is only 9,800. The Cubs have been at the facility since 1979. No, they still haven't won a World Series.

Plenty of affordable hotels are a short drive to many of the surrounding ballparks, and Grace Inn (tel. 800/843-6010; www.graceinn.com) is no exception. Close to the airport and the many of the surrounding training facilities, the Grace Inn is an ideal place if you're taking a swing around the Cactus League. Fall winter rates start around $89 bucks with a one-bedroom suite goes for $129. If you want to play a little golf in between baseball games, the hotel has a golf package that includes one night lodging and a round of golf with the cart rental thrown in at the Foothills Championship Golf Club in the Ahwatukee Foothills just outside of Phoenix for $129 per person based on double occupancy.

For low fares, Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) just announced round-trip fares out of New York with its partner airlines that will get you to Phoenix and back for just $178 with air taxes and security fees extra. But hurry up, you need to purchase these tickets by February 21, 2005. America West Airlines (tel. 800/235-9292; www.americawest.com/specials/sp_springtraining.asp) has great fares in conjunction with the Spring Training extravaganza. For you Oakland fans looking to get a look at the A's, flights from the Bay Area will run you $59 one way or $118 round trip from Oakland's airport. The other team's training sites are just a hop skip and jump so you can scout the competition and catch the Chicago White Sox, the Anaheim Angels and the other teams who train in the dry Arizona desert.

To catch the World Champion Boston Red Sox (that still sounds funny) over in the Grapefruit League, you're going to have to head down to Ft. Myers, Florida and grab some seats at tiny Wilber Billy Smith Field with a capacity of 6,990. Expect the Red Sox practices to be filled with excited, rowdy, knowledgeable baseball fans. If you want to stay where the players stay, book a room at the Ramada Inn Amtel Marina Hotel (tel. 239/337-0300; www.ramadariverfront.com). If you book now, you can save up to 70 percent off the normal rate, and the hotel is only a quarter mile from the stadium. Don't wear a Yankee hat.

Speaking of the Yankees, they play up north in busy Tampa. The first full workout for the Bronx Bombers at Legends Field starts on February 22, 2005 and you're sure to get a glimpse of the "Big Unit" Randy Johnson throwing batting practice to A-Rod. You probably won't get a room at the Radisson Bay Harbor, the team hotel, but the digs at several Tampa hotels are better than good. The Tampa Hyatt Regency (tel. 813/225-1234; http://tamparegency.hyatt.com) is a big hotel close to all the Tampa sites including the practice filed. Special web rates start at $239 but you get a lot for the price, as the luxury hotel is stacked with amenities.

Jet Blue (tel. 800/538-2583; www.jetblue.com) can get you there for a small sum. If you book before February 18, 2005 and travel before May 25, 2005, you can get to Tampa and back from New York for just $69 one way or $138 round trip. Get Derek Jeter to sign a baseball, and you'll pay for your trip if you hawk the souvenir in about 30 years.

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