Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater in just nine days! But who’s counting? The Phillies have been a staple in Philadelphia, 134 years to be exact, making them one of the oldest franchises in the league. They are the oldest continuous, one-name, one-city team in all of American professional sports. But in nine days, the Phils will open their first team workout in Clearwater, Florida, for the 70th consecutive year.
After using numerous spring training sites around the country, the Phils settled on Clearwater in 1947. They first played in the run-down Athletic Field. Many players often voiced their displeasure with the field, forcing the Phils to look elsewhere. Then, former major league pitcher Jack Russell saved the day.
Russell was born in 1905 in Paris, Texas, and made his major league debut for the Boston Red Sox in 1926. Russell’s career lasted 15 years, and he was a named an all-star in 1934, representing the Washington Senators. Once Russell’s playing days were over, he settled in Clearwater where he served as the city’s commissioner.
As city commissioner, he lobbied hard for the construction of a minor league park, having blueprints drawn up and presented to the Clearwater mayor in 1954, according to local historian, Johnny Goodtimes. When the city decided to construct the ballpark, the mayor surprised Russell by naming the stadium after him. The stadium cost over $317,000, which would be paid back over a 30 years, primarily through ticket sales and concessions. The Phils played their first game at the new park on March 10, 1955, with Robin Roberts on the mound. The Phils won the game 4-2.
Russell passed away in 1990, and the stadium was called Jack Russell Memorial Stadium the following spring. The Phils played their final game at Jack Russell Memorial Stadium in 2003. The stadium, as well as the neighborhood, was too run down for the Phils to continue to call it their spring training home, so in 2004, the Phils moved into the state-of-the-art Bright House Field, four miles away from Jack Russell Memorial stadium and adjacent to the Carpenter Complex. Now Spectrum Field, as it was just renamed this offseason, the park has been the Phils’ spring training home ever since. The 7,000-seat stadium models the outfield dimensions of Citizens Bank Park. There are also 2,000 more available spots on the outfield berm, perfect for a day-baseball picnic.