The Clearwater Threshers kicked off the 2017 Florida State League season on Thursday, April 6, against the Dunedin Blue Jays at Spectrum Field in Clearwater. The Philadelphia Phillies’ Single-A affiliate will play 70 games at home this summer, with many fun theme nights on the schedule, including Star Wars Night, Military Night, Dollar Tuesdays and the annual Pitch for Pink breast cancer awareness game.
CLEARWATER – They say you can’t go home again, but Shawn Williams is proving that old adage to be untrue.
Williams, son of former Major League manager Jimy Williams, played high school baseball at Clearwater Central Catholic and spent seven years in several Major League Baseball organizations before going into coaching in 2012, and he has returned home this year to coach the Clearwater Threshers, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Single-A Florida State League affiliate.
A former infielder who looks like he could still handle a sharp grounder, Williams met with Threshers fans and season ticket holders on April 6 during the team’s initial Happy Hour Wednesday of the 2017 season, and in between fielding congratulatory handshakes and questions about his famous father, he took a minute to talk about what it feels like to be returning to his baseball roots.
“It’s definitely exciting,” the 33-year-old said. “I’m a local kid, went to CCC and grew up here going to Blue Jays games at the old Grant Field and Phillies games at Jack Russell (Stadium). I played here in the (Florida State) league, and now, being here managing, it’s awesome.”
Williams might be young for a manager, but he’s not inexperienced. He spent the past two seasons leading the Lakewood Blue Claws, the Phillies’ South Atlantic League affiliate located in Lakewood Township, New Jersey, and before that, he was a player-coach for the Williamsport Crosscutters in the short-season New York-Penn League. That coaching experience at various levels of Philadelphia’s organization means he is very familiar with the Threshers’ current roster.
“It’s been a lot of fun being with the Phillies in general,” he said. “I’ve really learned a ton here in the last five years. I’ve been around a lot of great baseball people, and almost all of these kids I’ve had at some point, and most of them I had last year in Lakewood. So I think it’s definitely a good thing, because they know what we expect out of them as a staff, and I think it makes the transition a little bit easier. But it’s a new league for us, and for them, too. So it should be fun.”
Williams’ knowledge of his players should come in handy for the Threshers, an organization that has been successful at developing major league talent while at the same time fielding a highly competitive ballclub over the past two years; under former manager Greg Legg, Clearwater made the postseason for the first time in eight years in 2015, and the Threshers nearly duplicated the feat last season, barely missing the postseason after getting off to a rough start.
“I think the most important thing at this level is development and getting these kids to improve every day,” Williams said of a manager’s priorities at the Single-A level. “It’s a goal of mine to get someone better every day, just one guy. There’s always something to learn, and that’s how you get a lot better, and these kids are open to that. They did it last year, which was cool, to see from the beginning of the year how much better they got by the end, and obviously, it showed with wins and losses but more importantly, in how they developed as players. It’s definitely the best thing for us as a staff, developing and moving these guys up. The more you move guys up, the better it is. You want to make sure these guys are ready to go.”
After seeing Williams smile and shake hands with dozens of fans, including longtime Threshers announcer and fellow CCC alum, Don Guckian, during the team’s kickoff party, and listening to his enthusiasm for the opportunity he’s been given, there’s no question the hometown boy is ready to go.
“It doesn’t get any better,” Williams said while surveying the scene around the left field tiki bar at Spectrum Field. “You see it in here tonight, with the season ticket holders. This stadium is phenomenal, the playing surface, the people around here. Everything. Obviously growing up around here, I think the Clearwater and Tampa area is the best area. This is like a dream for me, being back home, and getting to be around a lot of the people I grew up with. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
If you go:
What: Clearwater Threshers baseball Where: Spectrum Field, 601 Old Coachman Road, Clearwater When: The Threshers’ 2017 Florida State League season kicked off on Thursday, April 6 and runs through Saturday, Sept. 3. Details: The Clearwater Threshers hope to have another outstanding season in 2017 under the direction of new manager, Clearwater Central Catholic alum Shawn Williams.
In addition to a roster featuring several highly-rated Phillies prospects, including RHP Franklyn Kilome (#7), fellow righty Jose Taveras (#21) and outfielders Cornellius Randolph (#15) and Jose Pujols (2016 SAL home run leader), the 70-game home schedule includes a variety of fun, themed nights, including Star Wars Night (4/21), Military Night (6/3) and Pitch for Pink (7/14), plus weekly specials such as Dollar Tuesdays, Taps and Tacos Thursdays, Happy Hour Wednesdays and fireworks after every Saturday night game.
Oh, and the Thresher’s Fourth of July fireworks display is considered by many to be the best in the entire Tampa Bay area!
Tickets are $10 for premium boxes, $8 for field boxes; discounts and group rates available; call 727-467-4457 for ticket information.