Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos helps unload the 53-foot-long tractor trailer filled with PhiladelphiaPhillies spring training equipment at Spectrum Stadium in Clearwater Feb. 10.
CLEARWATER – Much like the annual early-February spectacle of Punxsutawney Phil searching for his shadow, the arrival of the Philadelphia Phillies equipment truck signifies the unofficial start of spring in Clearwater, the only difference being “Truck Day” is more reliable than the legendarily fickle Pennsylvania groundhog.
The 53-foot-long tractor-trailer carrying thousands of pieces of assorted baseball and spring related equipment (i.e. golf clubs and fishing poles) made the 1,000-mile journey from frigid Philly to comparatively balmy Clearwater last week, arriving at the team’s newly christened Spectrum Field on Old Coachman Road in the early morning hours of Friday, Feb. 10.
As always, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos was on hand to greet the truck, and he took a quick break from helping the Phillies staff unload 1,200 bats, 2,400 balls, 600 caps and 150 pairs of batting gloves, among other items, from the truck to speak about the significance of the day.
“Being able to welcome the Phillies back to Clearwater every year is very important to me, and to the area,” he said. “They’ve been a partner here for 70 years – we’ve grown up together. Baseball is America’s sport, and in spring training, everyone is equal. They had a good season last year, and we expect them to improve this year and be back in the World Series soon.”
As Cretekos’ comments illustrate, hope springs eternal here in the Sunshine State in February and March, especially for Major League Baseball teams and their fans.
The rebuilding Phillies finished 20 games below .500 last season, and it could be tough sledding for them again this year, with the team attempting to integrate veterans like SP Clay Buchholz and INF Howie Kendrick with their core of young yet talented players, many of whom recently played in Clearwater for the Phillies’ Single-A Florida State League team, the Threshers, including catching prospect Andrew Knapp and starter Aaron Nola.
Philadelphia is also entering its first season without first baseman Ryan Howard in more than a dozen years, as the former Rookie of the Year and National League MVP was not retained by the club following a 13-year career after his 5-year, $125-million contract expired at the end of last season.
But despite the uncertainty, team personnel believe the Phillies are closer to being a playoff contender than they are to the basement in the competitive National League East.
“We’ll be better this year. I’m not sure how much better, but we’ll be better,” Scott Palmer, the club’s director of public affairs, said. “We should be markedly better this year than we were last year, and then hopefully we’ll make a big leap next year.”
Before the Phillies can start thinking about winning another championship, they will play their 71st spring season in the city of Clearwater, beginning with pitchers and catchers reporting on Valentine’s Day and concluding with a home game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, March 31.
In between, the Phils will kick off their 2017 Grapefruit League home schedule with a game against the New York Yankees on Saturday, Feb. 25; additional home dates include contests against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Boston Red Sox, the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Speaking of home games, while the Phillies and the Threshers will continue to play in the same 8,500-seat ballpark on Old Coachman Road that opened as Bright House Field in 2004, there is a new name for the venue this year – Spectrum Field – following Charter Communications’ recent acquisition of Bright House Networks.
“Charter Communications has a great reputation for being an active supporter of community engagement so to have our facility associated with their brand is an honor,” Phillies Director of Florida Operations and General Manager for the Clearwater Threshers, John Timberlake, said in a press release announcing the new naming rights deal, which runs through 2020. “We look forward to partnering with them beyond just this naming rights opportunity in the years ahead.”
Fittingly, as hardball hope springs once again here in Clearwater, the Phillies’ motto for the spring season is, “New look. New year. New excitement. Spectrum Field.”
If you go: Philadelphia Phillies 2017 Spring Training
Thurs, Feb. 23 - University of Tampa Sat, Feb. 25 – New York Yankees Mon, Feb. 27 – Tampa Bay Rays Tue, Feb. 28 – Baltimore Orioles Fri, Mar. 3 – Minnesota Twins Sat, Mar. 4 – Atlanta Braves (ss) Sun, Mar. 5- Detroit Tigers (ss) Thu, Mar. 9 – Toronto Blue Jays Fri, Mar. 19 – New York Yankees Sun, Mar. 12 – Boston Red Sox Tue, Mar. 14 – Atlanta Braves Fri, Mar. 17 – Toronto Blue Jays Sat, Mar. 18 – Pittsburgh Pirates Wed, Mar. 22 – New York Yankees Thurs, Mar. 23 – Minnesota Twins Sun, Mar. 26 – Pittsburgh Pirates Tue, Mar. 28 – Toronto Blue Jays, 6:35 p.m. Thurs, Mar. 30 – New York Yankees Fri, Mar. 31- Tampa Bay Rays (*ss=split squad)