Baseball fans were out in full force when the Philadelphia Phillies kicked off the home portion of the 2017 Grapefruit League season with a game against the New York Yankees at Spectrum Field on Feb. 25.
CLEARWATER – It was a picture-perfect day for baseball, the sun shining high in the cloudless Clearwater sky, as the Philadelphia Phillies kicked off the home portion of their 2017 Grapefruit League schedule with a game against the New York Yankees at Spectrum Field on Feb. 25.
Thousands of shorts-and-T-shirt clad baseball fans packed the stadium, formerly known as Bright House Field, for the start of another spring training season, the Phillies’ 71st in the city of Clearwater.
Prior to throwing out the ceremonial first pitch along with General Raymond A. Thomas III, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos spoke about the team’s long and storied history in the city.
“We’re excited to welcome the Phillies back to Clearwater,” Cretekos told the crowd. “For 71 years, it’s been a true partnership, and we appreciate everything they do for the city of Clearwater, on the field and off, all year long.”
A look around the stadium, which was renamed in January following Spectrum’s parent company, Charter Communications, 2016 purchase of Bright House Networks, revealed plenty of familiar, as well as several new, sights. In addition to fan favorites like the left field tiki bar and the ultra-relaxing berm seating, there’s new signage and additional security measures in the form of metal detectors greeting every incoming patron.
“There are a lot of changes the fans will notice, including digital menu boards and walk through metal detectors,” John Timberlake, the Phillies’ director of Florida operations, said, noting the extra security measures were mandated by Major League Baseball. “It’s a minor inconvenience for fans, but unfortunately, it’s the way of the world today. So far, it’s been fairly seamless. We’re still learning, but it creates a safe environment for the fans. There are many new touches here and there that are designed to have a better experience for the fans.”
Fans were certainly having a great time down in the Diamond Dugout, where local business owner and longtime Phillies fan, Pat O’Hara, had reserved the private party section located next to the Phillies dugout.
With 30 friends, family and employees mingling in the field-level area along the third base line, O’Hara, a Philly native and founder and CEO of Tampa based MainteneX International, held court over the festivities, posing for photos, directing the Hooters girls to distribute food and drink to his guests and generally enjoying the start of another spring season in Clearwater.
“I’ve been coming to the Phillies games since the Jack Russell Stadium days, and we always have fun,” O’Hara said, adding he typically reserves the dugout section 3-5 times per year. “I’ve been doing this for so long, some of the women’s husbands have died, but they still come to the games.”
One of those women, Catherine Gray of Clearwater, said she looks forward to coming to the games with the group every year.
“Pat has been doing this for us for so long, we wouldn’t think of missing it,” Gray, who lives at Top of the World, said. “It’s such a fun time to come out and enjoy a ballgame with friends.”