We’re just two days from the Phillies’ first Grapefruit League contest. It’s a Friday afternoon affair against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Florida.
There’s still time to buy tickets to games and hop on flights for the Gulf Coast, so if you’re thinking of heading down, we’re happy to give you a little primer on spring training. It’s Grapefruiting 2018 – things to know before heading to Clearwater.
Today Brendan Sample gives us a full tour of Clearwater with some best bets for games.
Spring training has officially arrived, and with it comes a newfound longing for Philadelphia fans to escape the northeastern cold and spend some time in sunny Florida to see the Phillies in some preseason action. Having been down to Clearwater twice in recent years myself, I can say with certainty that it’s something that every Phils fan should get to experience at least once. It’s fascinating to see so many prospective players up close all playing together, but if you’re still considering planning a trip to see a few games, it’s worth considering some alternate dates besides the most popular ones.
The first full week of March (4-10) is when most colleges go on spring break, and St. Patrick’s Day is always a popular choice, so if you can, it might be best to try and attend games outside of those dates. If you’re looking to stay close to Clearwater, any of the first seven games of the first week would likely be a good place to start (Feb. 23-March 1).
Amid homes games against the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers, the Phillies also play away games against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin and the Yankees in Tampa. With the Jays and Yanks being the only two Grapefruit League teams that play less than an hour away from Clearwater, it’s a great way to start the baseball season without having to travel all over Florida.
If you’re willing to do a little more driving, the Phillies do also visit some other teams that aren’t obnoxiously far away. If you want to throw in a trip to Walt Disney World to see the Phils take on the Braves, the team does have two games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on March 12 and 14, with a home game against the Tampa Bay Rays on March 13.
This will mark the last year that the Braves will spend their spring in Disney World, and thus it’s also the last chance you may have to say you went to Disney for Spring Training. With Lake Buena Vista being about an hour and a half drive from Clearwater, you could split the gap by staying in or around Lakeland, in which case you could also see a Phils split squad game against the Detroit Tigers on March 16.
Another good three-game stretch to look at would be March 20-22, where an away game against Toronto is sandwiched between home games against the Jays and Tigers. Dunedin is only about five miles away from Clearwater, which makes it incredibly easy to get to compared to many other Grapefruit League teams. This is why the Phillies play so many spring games against teams like the Jays and Yankees as opposed to driving at least three hours to play the Mets in Port St. Lucie or the Marlins in Jupiter.
The last three games of the Florida season could also be an enticing choice. With the preseason coming to a close, the roster and lineups will be about as close to what we’ll see on Opening Day during the spring. If you ultimately want to focus on seeing prospects during Spring Training, this might be a bit self-defeating, but there’s definitely a somewhat different but no less enticing appeal to seeing a nearly completed team that’s ready to begin the season.
The locations are also relatively confined as well, with the Phillies at home playing the Baltimore Orioles on March 25 and the Pittsburgh Pirates on March 27. The team visits the Pirates in Bradenton on March 26, and while it’s not quite as close to Clearwater as Dunedin or Tampa, it’s still just about an hour-long drive, which still beats plenty of other teams in terms of distance. Besides, what’s a Florida trip if you aren’t able to get out and about a little to soak in the beautiful sights?
Where to eat and drink
In between trips to and from the different stadiums, you’re also definitely going to want to check out some of the great restaurants in and around the Clearwater area. Some of the classic options include Lenny’s for breakfast, surrounded by walls filled with Phillies memorabilia, and Pete and Shorty’s for lunch or dinner, where you might even get to see some of the players stop in for a bite to eat if you’re lucky.
One personal favorite of mine (even if it is hard to get good parking) is the Palm Pavilion Beachside Bar and Grill. With outdoor seating right next to the Clearwater Beach, you can’t ask for a better view. The menu features a wide variety of seafood, burgers and other bar fare, so there’s something for everyone. Even if you’re not that hungry, their happy hour goes from 4-7 p.m., giving you plenty of time to enjoy drinks with friends.
Want a local brew? A number of awesome breweries have popped up over the last few years, including Southern Lights Brewing, Big Storm and Pair O’Dice. After a Jays game, you have plenty of options in Dunedin including Cueni, Caledonia and Dunedin Brewery.
Of course, there’s the big dog in the area, Cigar City Brewing, a must for any beer fanatic. That’s a good stop if you’re in Tampa for a Yankees game.