CLEARWATER — Spectrum Field is typically awash in red, but during the Philadelphia Phillies’ annual Spring Training St. Patrick’s Day game, green is always the predominant color at the stadium.
That was the case again this year on an overcast but pleasant Sunday afternoon, as the Phillies and their newly minted $330-million man, Bryce Harper, took on the New York Yankees in front of a standing-room-only crowd announced at 11,304 in what is always the biggest game of the spring.
“I’ve been coming to this game every year going back to the old (Jack Russell) stadium,” Pat O’Hara, a Tampa business owner who reserves the Hooters Diamond Dugout for friends, family and employees every March 17, said. “It’s a tradition and I never miss it.”
Over in the outfield, the berm seats were nearly filled an hour before game time, and denizens of Frenchy’s Tiki Deck, who rushed to the section as soon as the gates opened, were already in mid-game form.
Amid the sea of green replica jerseys, tee shirts from Irish pubs worldwide and the occasional kilt, three friends from the northeast were enjoying their annual pilgrimage to Clearwater for the game.
“The atmosphere, getting away from the cold, hanging in the sun and having some drinks!” New Jersey resident Nicole Slimm said when asked what brought her and her friends, Lydia Boring and Colleen McKeever, to the game.
“It’s an awesome field with a great crowd and we always have a great time,” McKeever, a Philly native, added. “You just can’t beat it.”
Pregame festivities, including a trio of paracommandos from the U.S. Special Operations Command Parachute Team out of MacDill Air Force Base landing on the field, gave the day a distinct holiday vibe.
Sporting a green #3 jersey and the Phillies’ green “Liberty Bell” cap, Harper stopped stretching on the outfield grass to sign autographs for a group of Clearwater Little Leaguers before heading to the dugout.
“How’s your foot, Bryce?” one young player asked the outfielder, who was drilled by a pitch two games prior.
“It feels good,” Harper replied before bending down to sign baseballs for the rest of the team.