From left are Californian Katie McAuley, Courtney Haddad of Clearwater and Nancy Newlin of Salt Lake City who enjoy the Phillies’ annual St. Paddy’s Day spring training game on Friday, March 17.
CLEARWATER – Spectrum Field in Clearwater is typically tinged in red, from the color of the seats to the uniforms of the ballpark’s home teams, the Philadelphia Phillies in the spring and the Clearwater Threshers in the summer.
But for one day every March, the field on Old Coachman Road is awash in a sea of green, as the Phillies’ annual St. Patrick’s Day spring training game has become a must-attend event for fans of baseball, beer and those who simply enjoy having a great time in traditionally ideal weather on one of the biggest party holidays of the year.
This year was no exception, as a near-record crowd packed the park, ostensibly to see the Phillies take on the Toronto Blue Jays, but in reality to bask in the sun and watch America’s pastime with friends, family and fellow fans of Erin go Bragh.
“The annual St. Patrick’s Day game at Spectrum Field was a huge success, and we have the fans to thank as we reached the third-highest attendance total in ballpark history,” Phillies PR and media relations assistant Rob Stretch said of this year’s game, which had an announced attendance of 11,173. “The unique atmosphere of the holiday during Spring Training is enjoyed year after year by the Phillies faithful.”
Those comments were backed up by many Irish and Irish-for-a-day revelers we spoke to during a trip around the park that was made all the more difficult thanks to the packed concourses and mass of humanity surrounding the left field tiki bar. Fans came from as far away as Toronto, California, Utah and Washington, D.C., for the game, which has become a rite of spring for some.
“I come to town once a year, for this game,” California resident Katie McAuley said as she spoke with friends, including Nancy Newlin from Salt Lake City, along the third base concourse.
“I’ve been coming for a long time,” Courtney Haddad of Clearwater added. “Now it’s become a tradition for all of us.”
The theme of attending the St. Paddy’s Day game becoming tradition was a common one with fans. According to Craig Rankin, owner of a national roofing company based in Tampa, he doesn’t miss the March 17 game, as it makes a perfect day to treat clients and friends to a fun day at the ballpark. “I come to about 10 games a year, and I always come to the St. Paddy’s game,” Rankin of CP Rankin Roofing, said. “It’s a good time to bring clients and office personnel together and celebrate baseball and St. Patrick’s Day.”
A pair of Blue Jays fans who traveled all the way from Toronto perhaps had the best perspective on the day. Shawna Ellis and Kara McKinnon said the Phillies’ ballpark makes the experience special, even if St. Paddy’s Day isn’t nearly as big of a deal where they live.
“I live in Toronto and I come down for the St. Paddy’s day game every year,” Ellis said. “This stadium is beautiful. Dunedin really needs to upgrade theirs!”
“Americans love St. Paddy’s Day, don’t they?!” McKinnon, who was experiencing her first game outside of the Rogers Center, the regular season home of the Jays, said. “We have Irish in Toronto, but they don’t give a crap about it. But I love it!”