Enjoy the warm weather and watch your favorite Major League teams launch their pre-season practice series and exhibition games in local stadiums.
Every February, when much of the country is still in a deep freeze, the nation’s most talented pitchers, catchers, infielders and outfielders are dusting off their cleats and putting on sunscreen. Spring Training time has arrived, with preseason exhibition games a Florida tradition for players and fans alike.
While Spring Training fields are found throughout the Sunshine State, the St. Pete/Clearwater area (and nearby Tampa) has some of the most legendary - the Philadelphia Phillies’ Spring Training camp in Clearwater and the Toronto Blue Jays’ camp in Dunedin.
The Philadelphia Phillies
Five-time National League East title winners the Philadelphia Phillies train at the glistening BayCare Ballpark
in Clearwater, a new venue welcoming an old team — the Phillies have been coming to the city every spring since 1948.
Built in 2004, BayCare Ballpark has great amenities, and fans can view the action from just about any vantage point here. There are 7,300 fixed seats, plus more than 1,000 additional seats on a grass berm in the outfield. So keep your eye on the game, since fly balls - whether knocked high behind the plate or beyond left field - can be caught by fans in the stands.
BayCare Ballpark’s amenities come with a tropical vibe. Besides the abundant palm trees and the Spanish Mediterranean architecture of the venue, there’s the full-service bar known as the Tiki Pavilion behind the left field wall. Other features include a 360-degree open concourse, group picnic areas, party suites, a kids' play area, upper deck club seating and a large team store. And of course, don’t even think about leaving without sampling the most classic of Philly favorites — cheesesteak sandwiches. Get yours in the food court behind home plate.
Seating tip: The Phillies dugout is on the third base side. Buy tickets in sections 112-120 to sit on the home side of the stadium. Want an autograph? Phillies players sign before the game for those gathered in sections 118-120.
Toronto Blue Jays
Average February high temps in Toronto come in at a teeth-chattering 33 degrees, making the Blue Jays’ annual Spring Training at Dunedin’s TD Ballpark
all the more enticing for the team’s players anxious for some Florida sunshine. The American League team has been spending its preseason in this small town just north of Clearwater since 1977. In keeping with the multinational vibe of the Blue Jays’ visit, Canadian and American national anthems are sung before games start and Toronto-based Labatt Blue beer is on hand.
Lauded for its cozy, residential atmosphere (it's tucked in among small businesses and homes a few blocks from downtown), the field has been ranked by Sports Illustrated as one of the top five places to watch a Spring Training game. For an extra-charming touch, "Chad the Beer Guy" gets fans to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" from the top of the dugout during the seventh-inning stretch.
The food at the stadium isn’t your standard beer-and-a-pretzel fare. In keeping with St. Pete/Clearwater’s identity as a craft beer mecca, there's a Craft Beer Dugout inside the third-base concourse. A large tent-covered grill behind home plate serves up pulled-pork sandwiches and baked beans.
Seating tip: To sit on the Jays' side of the stadium, buy tickets in sections 100-106 or 200-206. Prefer to sit in the shade? A roof provides cover over the top six rows (11-16) of seats in the upper grandstand, except for the three sections (205-207) in front of the press box. The afternoon sun is behind the first-base grandstand, enabling all covered rows (11 and up) to receive shade in sections 200-204.
Grapefruit League Baseball Spring Training
Nine other major league teams, named the Grapefruit League, play their spring games within a two-hour drive of St. Pete/Clearwater. The legendary New York Yankees call Tampa home for the Spring Training season. The Atlanta Braves take the field in Lake Buena Vista, near Orlando. Head to Lakeland to see the Detroit Tigers working out, or the Houston Astros in Kissimmee.
2018 World Series Champions the Boston Red Sox and 1991 champions the Minnesota Twins train in Ft. Myers, while the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates play ball just a short drive south on I-75 in Sarasota and Bradenton.
As for the Tampa Bay Rays? Like so many other Spring Training teams, they head south, too - albeit just 100 miles south to Port Charlotte.
Workouts for all teams begin mid-February and continue until early April, when teams take the field for opening day.
Spring Training Ticket Information
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