Clearwater, Florida, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, are cities that are about as different as apples and oranges, cats and dogs, and the 1969 and 2010 New York Mets. One is a relatively new, laid-back beach community that likes to stay out of the spotlight (especially when the Scientologists came to town), and the other is the epicenter of the United States seeking positive attention. Despite having given birth to this nation, and close enough to the current seat of power to exert great pressure and influence, Philadelphia always seems to remain in the shadow of the waterside port 90 miles to the northeast formerly known as New Amsterdam.
Yet, the two cities have been undeniably linked for over 60 years, thanks to retirees from the north settling here, and the Philadelphia Phillies. Back in 1947, the Phillies settled on a spring training location after bouncing around from stadium-to-stadium in Florida (including tenures at McKechnie Field in Bradenton and the predecessor to Al Lang Stadium, Coffee Pot Park, in St. Petersburg), and they have stayed in Clearwater ever since, thus making it the longest same "one team, one city" relationship in spring training.
This has also built one of the longest affiliations to the same Minor League Baseball team, with the Clearwater Threshers (originally called the Phillies, too, until 2004) having been formed in 1985 at the Phillies' request. Prior to 2004, both Phillies teams played at Jack Russell Memorial Stadium just north of downtown Clearwater. Then, the parent club built a new spring training facility closer to Tampa Bay along the main route to Clearwater Beach, and the now-Threshers followed along. The dimensions of the new park are exactly the same as Citizens Bank Park, as they are fraternal twins, both opened the same season, along with the tiered-bullpen setup in left and outfield wall heights.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are more food stands open here than any other Florida State League stadium I've reviewed yet. Usually, when it's a spring training home, there are more food stands than normally necessary, simply because of the month of March. There were stands closed here, too, but only one set in the deep 1st-base corner. Everything else was open throughout the park, and with the deluge of kiosks, queues are almost non-existent.
There are tons of choices, all with a Philadelphia flair: pizza from local chain Westshore Pizza, the owner of which is from Philly; Delco's Original cheesesteaks, whose founders are also from the Delaware Valley and has since opened a shop back up there in Chadds Ford; Hatfield hot dogs; and Yuengling, the East Coast lager born in the distant suburbs of Philly almost 200 years ago - thereby making it America's oldest beer - on-tap.
The prize, however, is "Beers of the World", which boasts over 100 varieties of brews of all types, from IPAs to ciders, lagers to pilsners, and anything in between. Prices are all under $8, and pretty much every continent is covered.
The prices aren't bad, as I had a cheesesteak, an order of "Boardwalk Fries" (which are quite reminiscent of the ones I got along the boards in South Jersey), and two Yuenglings (I went on Thirsty Thursday, two-for-one drinks) for $16.
This place is alive and kicking, even with no one in the house. The audio system is crystal clear, though not loud enough to feel like you need to shout over the person next to you. The scoreboard in left-center is large and clear, and even has a video board attached. And, in case you forget, the Phillies name is everywhere, reminding you who the parent team really is.
Also, they make great use of that video board by showing random movie clips to excite and entertain the crowd for almost every situation, like a scene from "Spaceballs" when the opposing coach comes to talk to the pitcher, and "Major League" when a wild pitch advanced the base runners. These made an already great night that much more lively and fun.
There are a few things to do in walking distance, like check out chain restaurants and stores. Nearby hotels are in walking distance, too. However, if those aren't your things, you're a 30-minute drive from everything Tampa Bay has to offer: downtown St. Pete, downtown Tampa, Ybor City, Tarpon Springs, and the world-famous beaches.
For a minor league game, there are some well-educated people that attend. Sure, there are people who just bring their kids and let them run wild in the berm, but there are also people attending wanting to see some solid baseball. They talk stats, history, and the Phillies, without nary a profanity. And most of all, they wear, not Phillies' gear (though some was there), but Threshers' apparel. Such love for a minor league team when an American League team is 20-minutes away in Tropicana Field shows how much people love the Threshers.
There is plenty of on-site parking (my only gripe being the fact there's a fee; it's only $2, but it's the principle), which is easily accessible and well-signed from both U.S. Route 19 and Drew Street, the main north/south and east/west routes. However, if coming from the south, major construction is happening on US 19, so prepare for jams leading up to Drew Street, but once there, traffic is fine.
The concourse is very open, though with ample shading from 3rd base to 1st and behind home, with a great breeze generally blowing through. The bathrooms are plentiful, clean, and actually quite large.
The night I went, we had a major league sighting. Sorry, not one, not two, but THREE Phillies were down on rehab assignments: second-baseman Chase Utley, catcher Carlos Ruiz, and the 3rd-starter Roy Oswalt. I sat seven rows behind home plate and saw 1/3 of the Phillies' starters for $9. I could have also gotten a baseline seat for $6.50 or a seat in the outfield berm for $5. I couldn't even pay any of that for a beer at CBP, so the ROI here speaks for itself.
In left near the foul pole is Frenchy's tiki bar, which is a full-service bar with high-top tables facing the field. This bar is also open on select non-game days during the season and in the off-season, too, and is a popular attraction to the park.
My absolute-favorite part of the stadium is something that's rare in Florida baseball stadiums (except the major ones) as a whole: a walk-around outfield with berm seating. None of the stadiums I've visited thus far have it, so I hope to find more on my journey across the Sunshine State.
Also, if you're looking for something fun to do with a group, there are plenty of suites above the general seating bowl for you and your closest friends to rent out, with great views of the park no one else can have.
Clearwater has made Sports Illustrated's list as the #1 sports city in Florida in large part to the Phillies' contribution, both in spring and their prime farm team in the summer. The Threshers have proven, with championships in the FSL, they're a premier team in a top-notch park, one that also hosted the Big East tournament and FSL All-Star Game in 2011.
The pride of both Clearwater and the Phillies, Bright House Field sets the standard for all new small parks built in Florida - one only matched, thus far, by the newest park in Florida, Ed Smith Stadium - and will continue to do so for some time. Any trip to Tampa Bay requires a visit here, as this has become the quintessential ballpark experience in the Florida State League.
Food & beverages can't be beat especially if you go on a promo night such as Thirsty Thursday or all you can eat Monday. Fans are very knowledgeable and for the most part seem to be Philly-area transplants. Love the Tiki bar. At the same time the park is very kid-friendly with inflatables, a playground & picnic area. As for access, avoid US 19. Take Rt. 60 to Old Coachman or McMullen-Booth to Drew St.
Food & Beverage-best to go on a weeknight when they're running a promo. I went on Thirsty Thursday & paid $12.50 for 2 beers and a cheesesteak. Excellent fans-seems to be heavily populated with Philly-area transplants. Not much neighborhood-it's off a highway with a bunch of big box stores in the area although Buffalo Wild Wings is in the parking lot and Tilted Kilt is across the street. Access-avoid Rt. 19 if at all possible b/c of road construction & heavy traffic. Take Rt. 60 to Old Coachman or McMullen-Booth to Drew. Tiki bar is awesome. Park is also very kid-friendly with the berm, playground & inflatables.
Located in central Clearwater, Bright House Field is the spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies, who are only too happy to remind you of their 2008 World Series championship, as you can see below. Naming rights were bought by a local cable entity who thoughtfully provides wi-fi throughout the park, although visitors need to signup first to enjoy 30 minutes of complimentary access.
Parking is off Old Coachman Road and is $2. In front of the stadium you will see a fountain with a sculpture of Steve Carlton.
Up the stairs are the main ticket windows where you have a few choices: $9.50 for the premium box seats, $7 for the rest of the seating area, or $5 for the berm. As usual, you can get the cheapest and pretty much sit where you want although there are ushers you will check your tickets in the premium area.
You can walk around the entire concourse, in fact, they state that 3 laps is a mile and you should exercise during the game. The berm area is a nice place to relax with a blanket and a few families were enjoying their time there. But you are far away from the action and I'd probably end up falling asleep out there.
Another interesting option is Frenchy's Tiki Pavilion above left field. This is a huge bar and seating area which attracts young adults looking to have a few drinks while watching the game. I attended on Thirsty Thursday when all drinks are 2-for-1, and Frenchy's was packed during the game.
For those who prefer typical ballpark fare, there are a couple of concession stands serving the usual. One is called the Bullpen Grille as it is located out behind the bullpens (which are situated on two levels as at Citizens Bank Park), the other is behind home plate but called the Home Run Grille. However, I would recommend the small cart selling Cuban sandwiches for $6.75. These were huge and far more satisfying than anything else I have had on the trip so far.
As is the case in most of these FSL ballparks, there are no bells and whistles. Concourses are wide as there are far more fans during the spring, and seats are plentiful. There was a small kids area in the left field corner but that was about the only thing remotely out of the ordinary.
I really enjoyed the atmosphere here. Fans were spread out throughout the park, but they still made plenty of noise when the Threshers were at bat. There were also a good number of visiting supporters, not surprising given that the Tampa Yankees play just across the bay. Chase Utley was rehabbing as well, adding to the excitement.
2820 Gulf to Bay Blvd
Clearwater, FL 33759
2800 Gulf to Bay Blvd
Clearwater, FL 33759
2640 Gulf to Bay Blvd
Clearwater, FL 33759
21220 US 19 N
Clearwater, FL 33765
24546 US 19 N
Clearwater, FL 33763
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