The first official Spring Training game for the Phillies will take place on Saturday. I am excited for baseball! But there is also a little sadness that I cannot be in Clearwater this year to enjoy the first crack of the bat under the warm Florida sunshine. If you are lucky enough to be heading south, enjoy it!
Spring Training is a magical moment in time where players are generally happy, relaxed and having a good time. The fan-friendly atmosphere and nice weather draws big crowds each year. And while the games are interesting, they really don’t mean much. The real reason to head to Clearwater is to mingle with other fans, chat with players, get autographs and photos and, most importantly, get a closer look at how major leaguers behave when their guard is down.
You may notice a lot of smiles, laughter and silly hijinks. To demonstrate, and also to get you in the Spring Training frame of mind, here are some of my favorite photos and moments from years past in Clearwater:
First up, the normally quiet and reserved Chase Utley laughs out loud and on another occasion, poses and smiles for me:
Jimmy Rollins waves hello and later attempts to play golf with his bat and ball:
Phillies alum Mike Schmidt has some fun with Reggie Jackson; Charlie Manuel jokes around with his players:
Remember Fan Fest? For some reason, the Phillies have cancelled this annual tradition of meeting players and getting autographs. But it was amazing while it lasted. Here are Chad Durbin and Kyle Kendrick signing and posing for me:
I attended a few Team USA games while in Clearwater. The most memorable moment was watching Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter of the Yankees field balls side-by-side during warm-ups. The second photo is Chooch, Carlos Ruiz, making an odd face at batting practice:
Here we have the Big Man, Ryan Howard, yucking it up on the field and later doing his impersonation of an airplane (or maybe he was just playing 1st base?):
And finally, just me and my camera hanging out by the field before batting practice. You can see how close fans can get to the field:
Are you ready to pack your bags yet? Wishing I was….sigh. Maybe next year :O)
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Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography
Spring Training is the best time to add to your autograph collection. The atmosphere is laid back, everyone is relaxed and enjoying themselves and you can find many unique, up-close opportunities with the players.
If you are lucky enough to be in Clearwater, Florida from mid February to late March, chances are good that you will get some autographs. But to make it easier, you will need to know a few autograph-hunting secrets specific to the Clearwater area.
From specific locations to proven methods, the following is a list of the top 10 ways to get Phillies’ autographs at Spring Training.
#1: Be Prepared
Before heading off to Clearwater, think about what you would like signed and by whom. Also consider the size, weight and practicality of these items before stuffing your suitcase. Bats and other large items are heavy and difficult to pack, especially if you are flying. Balls, photos and small figurines are fairly simple.
Once you have a plan, be ready to execute that plan in a matter of seconds. Players will not stand around and wait for you to find what you want signed or to search for a pen. Try to carry all items on your person in a convenient place.
For example, I hand sewed the bag in the photo and designed it specifically for 5×7 photos and Sharpies. Inside the bag are hard, plastic photo holders that are open at the top to easily remove a photo. Each photo is labeled with a name tag for easy identification and removal from the bag.
I also sewed in pockets to hold pens and markers. The long shoulder strap I added keeps it close to me at all times and my hands are free to do other things while I wait for an autograph opportunity.
While not everyone is super crafty or good with a sewing machine, this just gives you an idea of what to think about when getting prepared for autographs.
#2: Practice, Practice, Practice
Get to Clearwater early, before the games begin, and attend as many practice sessions as you can. Practice is held at the Carpenter Complex next door to Bright House Field and usually starts around 9:00am and ends somewhere between 12:00pm and 1:00pm, weather permitting.
Practices are free and open to the public. There are four outdoor baseball fields arranged in a box pattern and the bleachers in between are for fans to sit and watch. Usually, all fields are in use at once and players may hop between fields to work on different skills or with different staff and players.
Place yourself in one of the areas in between two of the fields where the players will pass by. If they are not busy, they may stop and sign. There is usually a short fence to keep you out of their area, but the players can walk right up to the fence and sign.
There are food vendors and restrooms for fans to use at this facility, so stay as long as you like. Sometimes, right as practice ends and the team heads inside, a player will walk over to the fans who still remain and sign for a few minutes. So staying late can pay off as well.
#3: The Early Bird Gets The Worm
At this same Carpenter Complex, there are opportunities to get autographs outside of scheduled practice and game times. If you are an early bird, this lesser-known secret is the one for you.
There is a tall, black metal fence that surrounds the complex and secures the player parking area. Many players walk right past this fence after parking to head inside and prepare for the day.
Stand right up against this fence and wait. You can stand on either the side nearest the practice fields by the fan parking lot or on the other side, nearer to Bright House Field. If a player walks by, ask for an autograph.
The photo to the left shows former Phillie Lou Marson signing at the fence.
#4: Persistence Pays
This same method as in the previous slide works after practice or games as well. Although, this requires a lot of patience. Most players do not leave to go home right away and some stay very late to either eat, receive injury treatments or get extra practice time. Most have gone home by 4:00pm.
Also keep in mind that the bigger name players usually park in the back of the building. You can see them drive by, but they are not likely to stop at the fence.
If you are at the fence early in the morning, make note of which players park on which side. Then when you stay after practice, you have a better idea of who will be walking past you and on which side of the fence.
#5: Get Them While They’re Young
Just because a player is not a super star yet, does not mean he will not be someday down the road. Getting autographs from lesser known and younger players can pay off in the long run.
Plus, most minor league players are actually excited to sign for you. Because not many people ask for their autographs, not only will most of them sign, many will hang around and chat with you as well.
Minor league players, many of whom are star-struck at playing with the big boys, are full of fun and interesting information. You never know what you might find out. I will let you use your imagination on that one.
#6: Do Your Homework
While the younger players are easier to get autographs from, some can be shy and slightly more reclusive. In those cases, it pays to do your homework and figure out who is who so you can call them by name.
I once had a minor league player tell me, “I will sign that ball and give you my practice bat if you can tell me what my name is.” I did tell him his name and he did sign the ball. Sadly, I could not coax the bat out of his hand. I assume he thought there was no way I knew who he was.
Another time, I called a player by name and he literally came running over, telling me how excited he was that I knew his name. He then spent the next fifteen minutes talking my ear off about his day at practice.
While he chatted, other players came over to see what was happening and I got three more autographs. It was a chain reaction.
So do yourself a favor and look up names and photos of players who will be at Spring Training before you go. Carry their photos with you if necessary and go get some autographs.
#7: Game Time
Regular practices in Clearwater end when the games begin. If you do not arrive in time to attend a practice, you can still get autographs at the games.
The first thing you need to know is that the “home” side of the ballpark in Clearwater is the third base side. This is the opposite of the ballpark in Philly.
When purchasing game tickets, the best seats for getting autographs are sections 120, 119 and 118. These are along the left field wall where the players enter the field to head for the dugout. You can get autographs as they walk past.
You can also stand in these sections before the game starts and try your luck. However, about an hour before the games starts, the ushers will check tickets and toss you out off that section unless you have a ticket for the area.
If you get tossed out before the players walk by, you are out of luck. The best way to ensure a shot at an autograph here is to buy a ticket for one of those sections.
#8: Keep Your Eyes Peeled
While in Clearwater, you may run into players in odd places like the local mall, bars or restaurants. Carry supplies with you everywhere you go, just in case.
The same is true while the team is on road trips in the regular season. I once ran smack into Jayson Werth on the street in San Francisco in a shopping district.
Wherever you go, keep your eyes peeled for wandering players. Just remember to be courteous and not interrupt them while they have a mouthful of food or appear to be otherwise engaged.
#9: Sugar and Spice Isn’t All That’s Nice
The following is a rule I see people break all the time. Do not be rude and obnoxious when attempting to get an autograph.
This does not only include being courteous to the players, but to fellow fans as well. If someone got to the front of the line or fence ahead of you, do not try to push your way to the front. Wait your turn and be respectful.
Once at the Blue Jays stadium in Dunedin, Florida, I stood up against the left field fence for two hours waiting for the team to come out and warm up. When they finally did, a few players came to the fence to sign.
Some woman behind me who had just arrived was literally trying to climb up my back to get at the player. As he was signing my item, the same woman bashed me in the head trying to thrust a baseball at the player.
The player saw what happened and asked me if I was alright. He then shook his head disapprovingly at the rude woman and walked away without signing anything for her.
You can be sure that player will remember that and avoid her again in the future. Do not be that person.
Help your fellow fans instead. Had the woman been respectful, I would gladly have helped her get the autograph by either stepping aside or handing the ball over for her if she could not reach. As a general rule, just be kind.
#10: Make New Friends
You never know who might help you get your next autograph. Talk to other fans, make friends with the ushers at the ballpark and chat with the locals.
One of those people may have information you do not. One of those people may be able to assist you if, for instance, you cannot get to the front of a line and they are willing to hand your item to a player to get signed.
Ushers especially are fun to talk to and they are usually bored as well. I have had ushers give me foul balls, tell me great stories and once, I even got a signed baseball card. He said it was an extra and wanted me to have it.
I have even had other fans hand me things for free as thanks for information I provided them with or just to be nice. One time, Charlie Manuel came over to a group of fans I was with but I had forgotten my pictures in the car that I was using for autographs. Another fan said he had plenty and gave me one of his photos to use.
I have made friends and kept in contact with many people I met at Spring Training. So while the autographs are nice, making new friends that share your love for baseball is even better.
Good luck and have fun!
Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography
February and March are ideal months to visit Clearwater, Florida. It is not too hot, not too cold and even better, the Phillies are there for spring training.
The list to follow is an excellent guide to both Phillies spring training and the Clearwater area in general. Whether or not you have ever been to Clearwater before, you should find this information very useful or at the very least, entertaining.
However, be forewarned. Spring training in Clearwater can be addictive and may turn into a lifelong habit. There is currently no support group for spring training addicts so, managing this addiction will be up to you. Just remember to bring friends to share the fun.
Everybody loves free and Phillies practices in Clearwater are just that. Once the whole team has reported and before games begin, daily practices are held at the Carpenter Complex next door to Bright House Field. Practice usually starts around 9:00am and runs until about 1:00pm, weather permitting.
There are four outdoor baseball fields at the Carpenter Complex arranged in a box pattern and the bleachers in between are for fans to sit and watch. Usually, all fields are in use at once and players may hop between fields to work on different skills or with different staff and players.
You will be able to wander around to see what is going on at all four fields. Some activities you can watch include pop fly drills, pitching practice, run-down drills, fielding practice and of course, batting. The sliding drills are especially fun to see as the players put on special “sliding pants” to reduce resistance and risk of injury.
There are public facilities on the grounds as well which include bathrooms and food vendors. The staff even sell some souvenirs. Parking is free as well so stay as long as you like.
Also keep in mind that practices can be a good time to get autographs from players.
Attend Games At Bright House Field
Unlike practices, games at Bright House Field are not free. But they are fairly cheap. Prices run from $13 to $34 per ticket.
In previous years, getting a ticket to a spring training game was relatively easy and could be done at the last minute. However, since the Phillies won the World Championship in 2008, spring training games are now much hotter items. Plan ahead and order tickets early.
Keep in mind when getting tickets that the home side at this ballpark is the third base side. So if it matters to you, you will know which side you prefer to sit on before buying.
Other games, called “B” games, mean the Phillies will be split into groups for the day. Some play in the regular game and others play the “B” game instead. Many of the “B” game players are those needing extra batting practice or players recovering from an injury and on some sort of physical restriction.
If you see a “B” game listed on a schedule, those are sometimes played before regular scheduled games at Bright House Field and are usually included with your ticket for that day. Other “B” games are played at the Carpenter Complex and are usually free and open to the public.
Visit Other Grapefruit League Ballparks
There are some really nice and interesting ballparks in Florida. When the Phillies have an away game, try going to see them at another park. Tickets are available through the home team’s web site or in person at their box office.
Here are the other Florida ballparks with the approximate driving distances from Clearwater:
– 5 miles, Toronto Blue Jays, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, Dunedin, FL
– 22 miles, New York Yankees, Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, FL
– 42 miles, Pittsburgh Pirates, McKechnie Field, Bradenton, FL
– 54 miles, Baltimore Orioles, Ed Smith Stadium , Sarasota, FL
– 59 miles, Detroit Tigers, Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland, FL
– 94 miles, Atlanta Braves, Champion Stadium, Lake Buena Vista, FL
– 97 miles, Tampa Bay Rays, Charlotte County Sports Park, Port Charlotte, FL
– 98 miles, Houston Astros, Osceola County Stadium, Kissimmee, FL
– 128 miles, Boston Red Sox, City of Palms Park, Ft. Myers, FL
– 128 miles, Minnesota Twins, Hammond Stadium, Ft. Myers, FL
– 152 miles, Washington Nationals, Space Coast Stadium, Viera, FL
– 178 miles, New York Mets, Digital Domain Park, Port St. Lucie, FL
– 208 miles, St. Louis Cardinals, Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, FL
– 208 miles, Florida Marlins, Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, FL
Of the closest ballparks, the Blue Jays in Dunedin is the easiest to get to. The Yankees in Tampa would be second. Steinbrenner Field is one of the nicer stadiums and has nice scenery with fountains, trees and a view of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stadium across the street.
The Pirates’ McKechnie Field in Bradenton is one of the oldest parks in the area, built in 1923. Although it was renovated in the early 90’s, the park still boasts the original 1920’s Spanish-mission style architecture including the masonry, stucco and structural steel materials. The seats are super tiny and very close together for a “get to know your neighbor” feel.
There are also several stadiums in the Orlando-Disney area including the Atlanta Braves’ Champion Stadium and the Houston Astros, Osceola County Stadium. You could make this a combination trip if you would like to visit any Orlando-area attractions.
Some stadiums are very far away and should be considered only for overnight trips or by extremely adventurous fans.
Spring training is a great time to get autographs from players. The atmosphere is very relaxed and most players are in a good mood. Depending on your level of dedication to this task, autographs can be obtained at practices, before and after games and even around town if you happen to bump into a player in public.
My next article will include a detailed list of the best ways and locations to get player autographs. Check back for that soon.
Have a Drink At Frenchy’s Tiki Pavilion
Inside Bright House Field at the corner of left field is Frenchy’s Tiki Pavilion. This full-service bar is open for every home game and is a great place to mingle with other fans, watch the game and have a cocktail.
You can even buy a game ticket in the “Tiki Terrace” section to guarantee a spot close to the bar. The stools which are directly at the bar are first come, first serve.
The bar service continues to run after the game as well. Some Phillies players have been known to stop by there to chat with fans or have a drink. Brett Myers, now with the Astros, was commonly found at the Tiki bar after games in years past. I also saw Ryan Howard pass by there after a game one time.
Shop At The Diamond Outfitter’s Clubhouse Store
The souvenir store at Bright House Field is called Diamond Outfitters and is located next to the ballpark’s west entry. You can enter the store both from inside and outside the ballpark, depending on game schedules.
Diamond Outfitters is a great place to shop for Phillies gear. They carry almost anything you can imagine such as tee-shirts, hats, raincoats, umbrellas, pens, trinkets, pins, souvenir bats and balls and more.
And if you ever wanted a Phillies hat with a palm tree on it, this is the place. The store is open on non-game days as well which is the perfect time to avoid large crowds as well.
Go To The Legends Game
This year, Bright House Field will host the Legends Game on March 13, 2011 at 5:30pm to benefit the Children’s Cancer Center. The event is presented by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association and will be attended by both former MLB players and national celebrities.
Some of the guests scheduled to appear this year are Hall of Famer Jim Bunning, Bob Boone, Darren Daulton, Von Hayes, Mickey Morandini, Steve Bedrosian, Jeff Kent, comedian Larry “The Cable Guy,” and meteorologist Dave Osterberg.
You can order tickets online through the Phillies web site.
Hang At The Beach
Unfortunately, at some point during your trip to Florida, there will come a time when there are no baseball-related activities going on. Take advantage of this opportunity and see what else Florida has to offer.
At Clearwater Beach, there is a nightly festival at Pier 60. The four-hour festival runs from two hours before to two hours after sundown. Jugglers, magicians, and a variety of entertainers perform for the crowd that gathers each evening. There are also local vendors selling jewelry, art work and souvenirs at very good prices.
And of course, there is the beach itself. Take a swim or simply relax on the white, powdery sand and soak up the warm sun rays.
See The Sights
The Clearwater are has much more to offer than just a beach. There are boat tours, dolphin watching, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, spas, an art center and lots of great places to shop.
Just outside of Clearwater, take a drive to Tampa. You can visit Busch Gardens or take in the nightlife at Ybor City.
About 15 miles north of Clearwater, check out Tarpon Springs and the Sponge Docks for shopping, eco-tours, authentic Greek cuisine. You can also take Greek Cultural Classes and Workshops to learn about the areas fascinating history and customs.
For a longer road trip, head north east to Orlando. The two-hour drive is worth it if you are interested in Disney attractions, Sea World, Universal Studios and other fun family adventures.
Florida is a state rich in history. There are a wide range of options here to broaden your horizons.
Florida Holocaust Memorial Museum and Educational Center in St. Petersburg is the third largest of its kind in America. Check out the photography and documentary exhibits collected from all over the world.
If your childhood dream was to be an astronaut, you will not want to miss the Kennedy Space Center located 45 miles east of Orlando. It is a long drive, but if you have the time, the history here is amazing.
Closer to Clearwater, you can visit the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, the Dunedin Historical Museum or Heritage Village in Largo which is an open-air living history museum featuring 23 turn-of-the-century structures.
Now, pack your bags, grab some friends and prepare to have an amazing time in Florida!
Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography