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Grapefruiting 2018: Pick your spring training experience

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We’re just days away 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 – four days of things to know before heading to Clearwater.

The schedule

Today we’ll look at the Phils’ spring training schedule, giving you a sense of the best times to go and the parks nearby, if you want to make it a more involved trip.

First, it’s still best you rent a car. You can do so at Tampa International Airport, which services Philadelphia nonstop through American, Frontier and Southwest. The drive from Tampa International to Spectrum Field (where the Phillies play) is 15.5 miles, primarily on FL-60, which includes the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Add in trips to and from the hotel, and the likelihood that you’ll be heading out to eat somewhere, and it becomes slightly more affordable to rent a car than to do ride sharing.

That said, Lyft is in Clearwater, Tampa and St. Petersburg, plus the nearby spring training sites of Bradenton, Lakeland, Port Charlotte and Sarasota. Uber covers the Tampa Bay area, and a one-way ride from the airport to Spectrum Field is $20-$26. Again, if you’re hoping to do more than go from airport to stadium, rental car will be a better value.

Also there’s the Clearwater Jolley Trolley, which transports folks to and from tourist destinations in the Clearwater area. Its special gameday trolley is $14; you have to call 727-445-1200 for reservations.

As for the schedule, here we go (weekends are in bold):

  • Feb. 22 – Clearwater vs U. Tampa
  • Feb. 23 – Dunedin vs Blue Jays
  • Feb. 24 – Clearwater vs Orioles
  • Feb. 25 – Clearwater vs Yankees
  • Feb. 26 – Tampa vs Yankees
  • Feb. 27 – Clearwater vs Tigers
  • Feb. 28 – Dunedin vs Blue Jays
  • March 1 – Clearwater vs Yankees
  • March 2 – Port Charlotte vs Rays
  • March 3 – Clearwater vs Orioles / Bradenton vs Pirates
  • March 4 – Clearwater vs Blue Jays (Alumni Day)
  • March 5 – Clearwater vs Twins
  • March 6 – Off
  • March 7 – Clearwater vs Red Sox
  • March 8 – Tampa vs Yankees
  • March 9 – Clearwater vs Pirates
  • March 10 – Clearwater vs Rays
  • March 11 – Sarasota vs Orioles
  • March 12 – Lake Buena Vista vs Braves
  • March 13 – Clearwater vs Rays
  • March 14 – Lake Buena Vista vs Braves
  • March 15 – Off
  • March 16 – Clearwater vs Blue Jays / Lakeland vs Tigers
  • March 17 – Clearwater vs Braves (St. Patrick’s Day)
  • March 18 – Fort Myers vs Twins
  • March 19 – Fort Myers vs Braves
  • March 20 – Clearwater vs Blue Jays
  • March 21 – Dunedin vs Blue Jays
  • March 22 – Clearwater vs Tigers
  • March 23 – Bradenton vs Pirates
  • March 24 – Lakeland vs Tigers
  • March 25 – Clearwater vs Orioles
  • March 26 – Bradenton vs Pirates
  • March 27 – Clearwater vs Pirates

I fully believe the Phillies have the best spring training situation in the Grapefruit League. They’re really close to the Blue Jays (10 miles) and Yankees (26 miles), less than an hour to the Pirates, Tigers and Orioles (47 miles to Bradenton, 57 miles to Lakeland, 58 miles to Sarasota), and about 90 minutes to the Rays in Port Charlotte and the Braves in Lake Buena Vista. That means you can see the Phils at a road game and be back at the hotel within four to five hours. Not to mention Spectrum Field is arguably the best spring training park in all of Florida (the Phils typically play more home dates than road dates for a reason).

Anyway, go this weekend and catch the team before the crowds arrive. The team’s first eight games are within a 26-mile radius, so you can literally catch a game every day.

Next weekend includes alumni day; get in on Friday evening and hang until Monday.

You can go during the week of March 5 and use the off day as a beach day, or a chance to check out some nearby breweries.

The best option for families is probably the week of March 12-16. Just before most people take spring break, spend a couple days at Walt Disney World. The Braves play at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney, so you can catch two Phils games there while taking in the Disney parks.

March 16-18 is going to be busy. St. Patrick’s Day in Clearwater is always a fun time, but it’s also the most crowded time, as it intersects with spring break. If you’re looking to party, it’s a great time to go, but if you’re more worried about getting a good hotel room and having a less-stressful time, opt for the week before or after.

The final weekend is fit for baseball fanatics who may want to visit a few parks. The Phils have a Sunday home date, but they also visit Bradenton and Lakeland.

No matter when you go, you’re going to have fun. Spring training is a must for all baseball fans, even if you go just once.

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