February is here, and you know what that means – Spring Training! Fortunately for fans, that journey always begins in sunny Clearwater, Florida. The Phillies have been coming to the area just off the Gulf of Mexico since 1915 and it has provided fans a warm haven from the final weeks of winter.
Phillies Nation has gone to Spring Training the past 6 years and after all the games, player sightings, sunburns, and parties, we’ve put together our Phillies Fans’ Guide to Clearwater.
To those fans who have not yet been on a Spring Training trip, I have one word for you – GO! It’s the most fun you’ll ever have…or the most relaxing time you’ve ever had….or both! In the meantime, read below for a taste of what you’ve been missing. The Guide is definitely a work in progress, so I’ve you’ve been to Spring Training, please offer your suggestions in the comments area.
Points of interest in Clearwater:
View Phillies Spring Training in a larger map
Photos from past Phillies Nation trips to Clearwater:
From Tim Malcolm’s 2009 piece, “Clearwater: A State of Mind“
It’s a ritual that tracks back to the Model-T: Teams training for the upcoming season in warm-climate cities and towns, getting a jump on the season with some pitch-and-catch. The Phillies set shop in Clearwater in 1947; fittingly, many fans who frequent spring training became adults the very time the Phils landed in Florida. So, in a sense, these fans grew up with Clearwater. When they had enough money and time, they would travel south to catch the Phillies in action, take in the warm weather, play golf and enjoy life. In many ways, Clearwater is more about the fans than the ritual of season preparation.
Most days in Clearwater begin early, despite the partying undertaken the night before. Fans line up in droves outside Lenny’s, the classic Phillies-themed diner near Bright House Field. Owner Dan Farrell outfitted his diner this year to reflect the champs, showcasing new renderings of popular players and the Phillie Phanatic. Meanwhile, a sign over Lenny’s exclaims, “One Dollar Yuenglings.” Head to most bars, convenience stores and mini marts in the Clearwater area, and you can grab a six of Yuengling anytime.
Rummaging through the Phillies Majestic Clubhouse Store, too, is like landing at an American embassy — suddenly you feel at home looking at the logo-emblazoned T-shirts and stuffed Phillie Phanatics. And when at the practice fields at the Carpenter Complex, you’re suddenly a part of the family, walking alongside top prospects in street clothes, chatting with moms and dads, picking out the youngsters by their faces. Search long enough and see Scott Palmer running around, or Chuck Lamar pacing through the complex. For once the names you’ve heard and seem so untouchable are right there in plain view.
Of course, it’s not some awe-inspiring thing. They have jobs. They have lives. But when you follow a team so religiously, you tend to hold certain people to higher plateaus; to be able to humanize them and catch them in their most ethereal is quite taken. It’s fun watching a game at Citizens Bank Park, but on a small practice field in Clearwater? You’ll never see a major leaguer so up close again.
And you’ll never see a Philadelphian so unabashedly happy.
For Phillies fans, Clearwater is a diversion, as well. It’s a chance to soak in the heat while the city recovers from winter. And it’s a chance to reconnect with those regular haunts such as Lenny’s and Frenchy’s, a chance to buy that Phillies merchandise in preparation for the 2009 season. And it’s a chance to reconnect with old friends, sit around a table with a couple beers and chat about other friends, kids, college and high school, romances, and of course, the Phillies.
In many ways, Clearwater is a state of mind. It’s the place where we escape from our realities. We can forget about work, forget about responsibilities. We can merely concentrate on having the best time possible. And, of course, baseball. This is the time the nickname “The American Pastime” really means something.