Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Logan Morrison signs autographs for fans prior to his team’s 2017 spring training finale against the Phillies at Spectrum Field in Clearwater on Friday, March 31.
CLEARWATER – The 2017 spring training season was extended due to the World Baseball Classic, but baseball fans and visitors to the greater Clearwater area didn’t seem to mind.
For five weeks in March, newly christened Spectrum Field was routinely packed with patrons rooting on the home team, the Philadelphia Phillies, or their opponents, and the Grapefruit League finale against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, March 31, was no different.
On an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon, the Phillies and Rays played a thrilling 7-7 tie, and before the players and coaches boarded the buses waiting to take them to the airport for the next flight to Philly, fans basked in their enjoyment of the final nine innings of the spring.
“We just stepped off the plane from Scotland and came straight here,” said Rays fan Chris O’Neill, who brought his 3-year-old son, Cailean, to his first baseball game. “My son is a big Rays fan, and he’s hoping to get (Kevin) Kiermaier or (Evan) Longoria’s autographs.”
Alas, despite sporting a noticeable sign, little Cailean didn’t get the signatures he was seeking, though several other Rays, including Logan Morrison and Steven Sousa, happily obliged.
Over in the Diamond Dugout section next to the Phillies dugout, a group of longtime friends and Phillies fans bid farewell to each other, and another spring training season.
“It’s the last game, the starters are playing, and it’s Friday,” Cory Helinski from Tampa said when asked what brought the group of Pennsylvania residents and transplants to the game. “We’re from Philly and have been coming to games here every year for 13 years, and the last one of the season is always bittersweet.”
After the final out was recorded, players quickly grabbed their equipment bags and headed for the exits with some stopping briefly to shake hands with stadium personnel or, in the case of newly minted Major Leaguer Brock Stassi, sign more autographs.
But while another spring training in Clearwater has ended, the Spectrum Field crew quickly began switching gears in preparation for the opening of the Clearwater Threshers season on Thursday, April 6.
“As the calendar turns from spring training to Florida State League season, we are looking forward to a summer of family fun at Spectrum Field watching today’s Threshers work toward becoming the Phillies of tomorrow,” Rob Stretch, PR & media relations assistant for the Threshers and Phillies spring training, said via email. “We celebrate the end of another successful spring training for the Phillies and are dedicated to making the upcoming Threshers season just as great. Whether our guests are arriving from Philadelphia to join us or travelling from just down the street, our fans truly are the heart and soul of our ballpark all season long.”