Look out your windows, there’s probably about two feet of snow on the ground, ice all over and bitter temperatures in the air. So why not book a vacation to good ol’ sunny Clearwater, Florida, site of Phillies Spring Training to watch the defending NL Champions prepare to compete for the World Series crowns yet again.
But, if you’re from Philly, you probably don’t know the darnedest thing about South Florida. So, allow me to give you all the insiders tips on where to stay, where to eat, how to get your favorite player’s autograph, and anything else you might want to know.
The Phillies have conducted spring training in Clearwater since 1947. Brighthouse Field was built in 2004, replacing the old Jack Russell Memorial Stadium (1952-2004). Since 2004, Bright House Field has been the home of the Phillies Class A affiliate, Clearwater Threshers of the Florida State League, so the team is affiliated with the area even throughout the season.
In 2004, Brighthouse Field was built on the spot of an old Home Depot, for $25 million, to host the Phillies’ home spring training games. It is named for the local cable company, Brighthouse. Brighthouse Field seats 6,897 persons. They also generally tend to let another 1,000 in for standing room only. There isn’t a bad seat in the place — there is no upper deck like at Citizens Bank Park.
Brighthouse Field is located at 601 Old Coachman Road in Clearwater. It is adjacent to the Carpenter Complex, where most workouts are conducted. Brighhouse Field is widely considered the best and most comfortable place to watch a spring training baseball game, and the team that plays there won’t let you down either.
Tickets range from $9 to $30, so it’s a fun, affordable experience for the whole family. Overall, this facility creates instant memories, and is a place that a family can plan for year after year.
What You Need To Know About the Area
Clearwater, Florida is the county seat of Pinellas County. Clearwater is the smallest of the three principal cities in the Tampa Bay area. The four-county area is home to roughly four million residents, making it the second-largest metropolitan area in the state. The population grows even higher during spring training.
There is public transportation, but I would highly suggest renting a car. Brighthouse Field is the only spring training location in Clearwater, but all the other Grapefruit League complexes are nearby, so you should be able to catch the team during most away games, with just a short drive.
You can enjoy beautiful beaches, resorts, and attractions while not watching baseball. The area can’t be beat.
The Best Way To Get Phillie’s Autograph
Generally, players are willing to sign during spring training. The best time to get them is before the game. After the game the starters will go quickly out the tunnel and the rookies will stay on the field to run. Security doesn’t usually seem too tight, so 30 to 45 minutes before the game, just stroll right down to the seats behind the dugout.
It’s also good to know the players by name, as most of them have pullovers on so you can’t see their name/number. Usually a player or two, will work the rails, from the dugout to the outfield fence, so about 30 minutes to game time find a nice spot along the rail.
A popular method during the regular season is waiting after the game outside of the players’ parking lot. However, I would not suggest this during spring training as players may head directly to the Carpenter Complex or stick around for a workout after the game. Also make sure, if it is a split-squad game (SS in the scorebook), that are at the game with the starters, not the game with the no-name, non-roster invitees.
What To Eat at the Park, Where To Go After
If you’re in Clearwater, you must go to Lenny’s Restaurant. Lenny’s is a favorite of all the players, broadcasters, and writers. It caters to all the players and it’s not uncommon to head in after a game and find Comcast SportsNet doing a piece, or a group of Phils huddled around a table. Lenny’s offers great Philly/South Jersey style food at very good prices, served by a friendly staff in a place with personality.
Even better, everyone in the place is a Phils’ fan. Once you step in Lenny’s, it’s like you’re right back in the neighborhood again, only you get to enjoy the Florida attitude and climate. Other good eats include Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill right on the beach, the original Hooters, Island Way Grill, and Sand Pearl.
In the ballpark there is the Palm Pavilion, which is a nice bar in left field where you can have a drink and see the game. There’s multiple concession stands throughout the ballpark also.
Where To Stay
When flying to Clearwater, you have two options. Tampa International Airport is obviously the closest airport to Clearwater and the most convenient. All the major airlines fly into Tampa. However, the airport is small and flights into Tampa tend to be expensive.
Your other option is flying into Orlando and then driving to Tampa. The fair to Orlando tends to be cheaper around spring training time. The drive is less than an hour and a half on I-4, but if you can save significantly on air fare the drive is worth it. It’s a nice drive, too, mostly on highways, but there are a lot of things you’ll see that you won’t find in Philly.
Once you arrive there are numerous options where to stay. Within a mile of the stadium is the Comfort Suite Clearwater, fairly nice and definitely affordable. There are several affordable hotels in the greater area (Best Western Seastone Resort, Best Western Clearwater Centra, Radisson Suite Resort Sand Key, Hampton Inn Clearwater).
You could also easily stay in Tampa, or closer to the beach. All the stadiums are fairly close to one another, so any of these places will allow you to see home and road games without more than a 30-minute drive.
Another option for golf fans is Innisbrook. Innisbrook is a huge step up price-wise but features some of Florida’s best golf courses. Innisbrook also hosts the Transistions Championship on the PGA Tour, so if you’re interested in catching that try to schedule your ST trip during that weekend. Amenities are all an A+, with indoor/outdoor pools, a large spa and anything else you may expect from a high end hotel.
What To Do in the Area When Games Aren’t Going On
There are a lot of good museums, including The Salvador Dali Museum and the second best baseball museum (only to the Hall of Fame, the Elliot Museum, located right near Clearwater). There is also Ybor City, the old Cuban section of Tampa. You can learn all about cigar making and enjoy fine, Cuban cuisine.
If you want to extend your trip, Walt Disney World is only two hours east. I wouldn’t suggest going on a rainy day or just for one day, as you’ll be overwhelmed. Disney is meant to be a vacation, not a day trip.
If you get tired of watching baseball, there are many fine beaches. But, beware, there are a lot of loud college kids on spring vacation. It seems to me that the farther south you go, the quieter everything gets.