One of the adventures on my bucket list has been to attend MLB Spring Training in Clearwater, Florida which is the home of the Phillies who play at Spectrum Field (formerly Bright House Field). Check that one off the list after Bernadette and I spent eight days in the mid to high 70s Florida sun. Here are the highlights.
After flying Allegiant Airlines out of Stewart International, we arrived at the Clearwater/St. Pete Airport (PIE). Enterprise was out of the compact car I reserved so they upgraded me to a higher vehicle at no cost. Sweet. The customer rep also listed the gas tank as empty even though it was full so I wouldn’t have to fill the tank upon returning the car. Even better. He was very accommodating and said he gave us the full tank “for our trouble at not getting the car we reserved.” Bernadette was very supportive of this trip from the start and she used a combination of Marriott rewards points and two free night rewards so our lodging bill for eight days/ seven nights was zero dollars. We were in the zone already. After we checked in, the Marriott night desk person offered us a free breakfast on Marriott the next morning.
After getting Bernadette lunch, I headed for a twenty minute ride to Spectrum Field. It is a beautiful complex. Parking cost $10 in the dirt and stone parking lot which was a short walk to the stadium.
I took these photos outside the stadium at the main entrance. Clearwater was designated by Sports Illustrated as one of the 50th Anniversary Sportstowns in the USA.
I walked around and saw the two grassy embankments for fans in left center and in right center. A lady with two kids took my photo by the Phillie Phanatic and Clearwater Thresher signs. The Thresher shark is the mascot for the minor league team who also uses this field. Further around the outfield, there were three lifeguard stands and some spectators had already claimed these seats. They had swiveling arm tables so you could set your food down while eating it.
There was a sign showing the names of all the cities where Phillies minor league teams are located and the mileage to those cities.
I made my way around to my seat in the small second level along the first base side. As I went upstairs, the attendant reminded me to have one of the free cocktails being offered. The free drink was a champagne and orange juice mixture called a Mimosa.
I settled down to watch my first game which was against the Minnesota Twins. I sat next to a couple who lived in Delaware County just outside of Philadelphia. The Phils narrowly lost to the Twins when the Phils made the final out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning.
I tried to get out of the parking area as fast as possible but the traffic was horrendous. Bernadette and I were scheduled, to meet my cousin Paul for dinner at a Texas Roadhouse located about one hour above Tampa. Fortunately, Bernadette was ready to go as soon as I got back to the hotel and we had a fun night visiting with my cousin who drove around three hours south to meet us for dinner. I had never been in one of these restaurants which were very lively with happy patrons. And there were a lot of peanut shells on the floors as each table is given a couple of pails of peanuts for snacking. Thank you Paul for fitting us in before your on call duty started at the Mayo Clinic.
In the morning I went for a walk and into the Scientology Headquarters Building for the Sea Organization in Clearwater. I got a brochure from the receptionist who informed me that there is an Open House every day from 10am-10pm in the Scientology Information Center which was located nearby off Cleveland Street. On an opposite corner of the Scientology Building has the words The Flag. This is the building where Scientologists have to sign the billion year service contract. That’s right, billion. This is one of the buildings that was shown and discussed on the cable channel show by Leah Remini. You could see the distinctive building from our hotel room window which faced west. The Scientology group has 22 other buildings in the Clearwater area. It was interesting seeing these billion year servants in their distinctive uniforms being picked up and shuttled around.
After picking up lunch, I headed back to Spectrum Field. Next up were the Atlanta Braves. The stadium provided the same free cocktail but I opted for a beer and a bag of cracker jacks.
The Phils came back after falling behind early. It always feels good beating the Braves. It is like the Eagles beating the Cowboys. Same feeling. It was great sitting in very good seats again for tickets in the $34 range.
I found an easier way to exit the parking area on this day and got back to the hotel faster by using a short cut I learned. We went to a restaurant named the Cork and Brew Bistro on Mandalay Avenue in Clearwater Beach. After dinner we walked onto the beach to see the sun setting. It was very peaceful.
After bumping into a young couple and their son from a Philadelphia suburb at breakfast at our hotel, I took their suggestion and watched some players practicing at the four practice fields named in honor of famous Phillies- Steve Carlton, Richie Ashburn, Mike Schmidt and Robin Roberts. The roster players and the non-roster invitees are very approachable and you can stand right next to the fence where they are. Easy to get autographs or photos. This practice occurs 9:30am-11:30am before the regular game starts at 1:05pm at the nearby Spectrum Field.
This was alumni day at Spectrum Field and a bunch of former Phillies were at different tables to sign autographs. I took this picture of a table with Ben Rivera, John Kruk and Mickey Morandini (left to right). Morandini is the first base coach for the Phils this season. The announcer introduced many other former Phils before the game. I got to see former Phils manager Charlie Manuel who is apparently a volunteer coach during Spring Training. He even had a reserved parking space at the practice field area when I visited.
This third Phils game was against the Detroit Tigers. The Phils were down 3-0 before even getting to bat in the 1st inning. But again, the fightin’ Phils came back and won this game 8-4.
The Phanatic was tremendous all three days. He did so many of his routines and interacted with fans, the players and the umpiring crew. My favorites include his high speed rides on his ATV around the field. He gave rides to two young spectators before two of the games. He mocked the Twins player so much during their pre-game stretching routine that one of the Twins players grabbed the keys from the ATV and threw them across the pitcher’s mound. The Phanatic impersonated the walking of the umps and various people on the field.
During one break between innings, the Phanatic operated the pneumatic T-shirt launcher. Some of his launched shirts went up onto the roof over our section.
Another time the Phanatic gave a kiss to a lady fan and stole her pocket book. He put the pocket book in the lap of another fan further down the same row and pointed a finger at the “guilty” party.
While I was having all the fun attending the games, Bernadette was enjoying the hotel pool and reading books on her Kindle.
This night we ate at the Island Way Grill which was located just off the causeway before heading into Clearwater Beach. We had the early bird special and sat outside to enjoy the view of a nearby marina.
I still am not very good at taking the selfies.
Since the Phils were off the today, I was lucky to be able to attend a Yankees vs. Pirates game in Bradenton with my fellow retired FBI agent and friend Hector. Hector got tickets for the game at McKechnie Field and it is the only time I have ever sat in the first row behind the first baseman, at a major league park. Thanks Hector! Great seats. Since there is so much less protection for spectators seated that close to the field, you have to be on alert for foul balls and wild throws from the pitcher. We had at least one of each come bouncing against the short wall in front of us.
I wore my Phils hat and a nearby Pirates fan said that this section was only for Pirates fans. I told him I was supporting our other Pennsylvania baseball team in the game against the Yankees. The Pirates won 13-1. If it had been a little league game, it would have been stopped due to the mercy rule.
The Pirates mascot is a costumed parrot named Captain Jolly Roger. He was introduced as the official mascot in 1979 which is the year after the Phanatic began for the Phillies. No mascot compares favorably to the Phanatic.
Hector treated me to dinner after the game so I will reciprocate during my next trip down for Spring Training.
My original plan was to take one day off after four straight games and then to see a Blue Jays game in nearby Dunedin. Their park, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, is actually closer to the Residence Inn where we stayed, than the Phils’ park. However, I misread a schedule for the Toronto Blue Jays and realized that their home game against Team Canada was one day sooner. Five games in five days it would have to be. Oh the struggles we retirees face. I figured I would never get another chance to see Team Canada in person. But when I went online to buy a ticket I got a message saying there were no tickets available. I called the ticket office and they said tickets were available but only in person at the field’s ticket office. I made the very easy six minute ride to the field and got a seat three rows behind home plate for $27. Wow.
I went back to the hotel for a while and then returned to the Blue Jays field but I took the advice of an attendant who recommended I park at the VFW Hall located across the street as they only charged $15 for parking instead of $20. The attendant also said the VFW serves food inside their hall and the food is much less expensive than the prices charged at the ball park.
Thanks to the volunteers at VFW Post 2550 in Dunedin, Florida. I put a quarter for scale reference next to my jumbo hot dog which only cost $3. The same jumbo hot dog in the Blue Jays ball park was $6.75.
The Blue Jays field can only handle about 5500 fans so it is smaller than other parks I know. I had a great seat right behind home plate. The sun was out in full force on this day and I had no shade protection so I wore my floppy hat. That is Team Canada practicing in the background of this photo.
This stadium needs some upgrading for fan comfort. The bottom part of the seats do not fold up. This makes it very hard when people need to move down the row. The rows are very close together and I had to stretch each inning as my legs were so cramped. Take a look at the photo below. Do you see something missing?
Bingo. No cup holders. When I purchased a diet coke, I got a bottle so I could have a cap on it. One server said they did not provide straws as the birds try to get the wrappers.
The game was fun to watch as Team Canada won 7-1. I even sat near a couple from Toronto- Ron and Sandy. They were staying at the same hotel. There were some other nearby fans who were from Quebec. They spoke French and English off and on during the game. They spent a huge amount of money on beer and other food items. They had seven beers before the third inning and were just getting warmed up. They purchased another five beers around the fifth inning. They mentioned their plans to take their kids to Disney World next week. The kids were apparently sitting a few rows back but not with the couple. They were funny and shared funny stories with another fan from Quebec who was sitting to my right.
As much as I think this stadium needed a makeover badly, I will say they had some good fan contests between innings. My favorite was the Frozen T-Shirt contest. The stadium emcee stands on the home team dugout roof with two contestants. At the start of the contest, the contestants reach into coolers to remove a rolled up frozen T-shirt. The fans then proceed to smash the frozen shirt repeatedly on a nearby railing in efforts to soften the shirt enough so they can put the shirt on. The winner was the person who got the shirt on first. It was the first time I ever saw this type of contest. Very funny.
I headed back to the hotel having seen eight different teams play in five games at three different fields during the past five days. Time for a break. I enjoyed a great dinner with Bernadette.
As I was running some errands during the day, I noticed many, many college age students at convenient stores and elsewhere as they were heading west toward Clearwater Beach for Spring Break. I pictured this beach area being featured on an episode of COPS.
Bernadette and I had a relaxing day and then another early bird special at the Island Way Grill again.
We continued reading more books on our mutual Kindles before checking out of the Residence Inn. Bernadette reached her goal of eight books in eight days. Incredible. We then headed to Enterprise for the rental car return. Returning the car was so easy that I will use Enterprise again if we come back next Spring Training. What a pleasure. No problems on the Allegiant Air flight back to Stewart International where our son Mike picked us up. Thanks Mike.And thank you Bernadette.