Baseball fans eagerly await spring when they hear that magic phrase: "Play Ball"! It means players have filtered into camps and spring training has arrived.
The St. Pete/Clearwater area has a 90-plus-year history of Spring Training. The area features the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin and the New York Yankees in nearby Tampa. There are also 9 other teams within a two-hour drive. Here in St. Pete/Clearwater, well, there are no worries when it comes to the weather, no matter the season. But Spring Training still provides a rare treat for the area's three big-league teams to practice in the beautiful and warm outdoors. The cozy stadiums and relaxed atmosphere help deliver the game in all its casual elegance.
The five time consecutive National League East title winners, Philadelphia Phillies, work out at the glistening Bright House Field in Clearwater. After setting a franchise record with 102 regular-season victories in 2011, the team also had the best record in baseball for the second year in a row. Now training at the newest venue on the Grapefruit League circuit, the Phillies are no strangers, they have been coming to Clearwater each Spring since 1948.
Offering full sun in its grass berm area and cold beverages in its Tiki Pavillion beyond the left field wall, Bright House Field has been a hit with fans since its 2004 inaugural season. In addition to being the spring home of the Phillies, Bright House Field also hosts home games of the organization’s Florida State League team, the Clearwater Threshers, and the BIG EAST Baseball Championship.
The Phillies aren’t the only Major League team to call the area their spring home. The American League’s Toronto Blue Jays have opened spring training camp in Dunedin since the team’s inception in 1977. And, a Canadian influence accents the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium (formerly Dunedin Stadium), at Toronto Blue Jays' game time when both the Canadian and American national anthems are sung before the game, and Labatt Blue is on hand.
This popular team has a loyal following and fans often pack the stands. Lauded for its cozy feel, the Jays’ Florida Auto Exchange Stadium was once ranked by Sports Illustrated as one of the top 5 places to watch a Spring Training game. The stadium also plays host to the Dunedin Blue Jays of the Florida State League, the Dunedin High School baseball team and various community activities throughout the year.
Nine other big league teams play their spring games within a two-hour drive of St. Pete/Clearwater: Atlanta Braves (Lake Buena Vista), Boston Red Sox (Fort Myers), Baltimore Orioles (Sarasota), Detroit Tigers (Lakeland), Houston Astros (Kissimmee), Minnesota Twins (Fort Myers), Tampa Bay Rays (Port Charlotte), New York Yankees (Tampa) and Pittsburgh Pirates (Bradenton).
The players and teams are on display from mid-February, when workouts begin, until early April when they dispatch to their home cities for the regular season. Come check out baseball's best, up close.
Phillies, call 727-467-4457 or www.phillies.com
Blue Jays, call 727-733-0429 or www.bluejays.com
New York Yankees, call 813-879-2244 or www.steinbrennerfield.com
Rays, call 727-898-RAYS or www.tampabayrays.com
Pittsburg Pirates, call 941-747-3031 or www.pittsburghpirates.com