Hey Phillies phans, have you ever been to Spring Training in Florida or Arizona? If not, it's time to make some plans and below, I will give you some veteran spring training tips to get the most out of your experience. In this article, I will cover how to plan your day at a game in Clearwater, Florida, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies. Detroit Tigers fans may be more interested in the Lakeland, Florida experience. If so, check out my spring training guide for a day of baseball in Lakeland.
Why Spring Training?
I say why not? If you're a baseball fan, spring training gives you a chance to get an inside look at your favorite team. I started heading down in 2000 and I've seen over a dozen facilities as I follow my Tigers and Phillies. While the Tigers facility has become a bit more closed over the years, the Phillies experience has gotten better and better.
Jack Russell Stadium to Spectrum Field
The change for the Phillies from when I started watching them and now are completely different. Back in the early 2000's the Phillies played in an old neighborhood ballpark called Jack Russell Stadium. You parked in people's front yards, there was limited access, etc. Today, the complex at Spectrum Field is one of the best experiences you'll find in spring training.
The stadium in fresh and modern. They have some great food at the ballpark, like the Delco's Cheesesteaks (a much better experience than I had in Lakeland). And you can find a little better beer prices by going to Frenchy's behind the berm.
Starting Your Day
I arrived at 10 AM and had already secured my tickets through the Phillies website. These days a spring training ticket can be pricey. I also found that I could get really great seats right behind home plate in the lower section for just a couple bucks more than the upper areas. My seat was fantastic but did set me back around $40 with fees (yes, for an exhibition game). Parking outside cost $10 in the lot across the street, but getting there early, there were plenty of spots. There are shuttles to take you from the parking lots to the stadium, but not always that early in the day. It's a short walk though.
If You Get There Early - Don't Go Right In The Stadium!
If you look at the photo above, these fields are not within the ballpark, they are to the left of the stadium. And an insider would know that if they show up early, they can walk around these facilities and watch the minor leaguers and some major leaguers warm up and do practice drills. Around 7 years ago, I was sitting on a bench watching Kyle Kendrick pitch and Jim Thome relearning how to play first base upon his move back to the National League. Funny story, while he was warming up in the batters box, he kept yelling something in my direction. I thought at first I might be doing something wrong. But then I realized, his dad was sitting right behind me on the benches. Later, he started signing autographs and I had him sign a ball for me. Things are much more relaxed in this area and it's a great place to see a pickup game. Just know, the minor leaguers are the ones usually playing in these areas. But it is a great place to see future stars.
Also another hint, on days when the home team is on the road, they still play minor league games over on these four adjacent fields. It's a great chance to see your teams minor leaguers get ready for the season. Just know, the full minor league squads don't always show up early in the spring training calendar, so plan to be there in mid-to-late March.
The reason I say don't go in the stadium at first is because once you've gone through security, you can't get back to these practice fields.
Why Pay Extra For Batting Practice?
At Lakeland, it is very strict and you couldn't get into the ballpark until 11 AM unless you paid for batting practice, so the extra $5 was worth it. Understand that the home team's batting practice is at 10:05 AM and the visitors bat at 11:05 AM, so getting in the park in Lakeland at 10 AM affords you a chance to see the home team.
But at Clearwater, I didn't notice them checking the tickets. In fact, you put the ticket in a scanner. Now, I had paid the extra $5, so maybe I would have been stopped, but I'm not sure it is policed at Clearwater was much. Still, to be on the safe side, you might want to pay it. But if they stop you, then just head to the four fields outside and to the left of the stadium to kill some time. Who knows who you'll see.
If you want to catch a souvenir ball, head straight for the berm. This is the grassy field behind the fence in the outfield. Bring a glove and the earlier you get there, the more chance you'll have to get a ball.
Being a Tigers and Phillies fan, I made sure I found games where the two were playing each other. As luck had it, I got seats right behind home place in the 5th row at this particular game. The ushers will check your tickets, so its better to get tickets down in the lower sections of the stadium if you want a good view during batting practice. Here, you see former manager Jim Leyland (second to the left) of the Tigers chatting with one of the young players. During Phillies batting practice, former manager Charlie Manuel was working with players as well.
I've seen some pretty cool people helping the teams out, including Hall of Famer Michael Jack Schmidt, "Mr. Tiger" Al Kaline, and broadcasters like Tom McCarthy signing autographs.
Enjoy a 360 Around The Stadium
There is some fun history in the stadium, as well as great views of the field, and a chance to grab a drink at Frenchy's or do some shopping at the team store. You can walk a total 360 around the stadium.
And what Phillies baseball game would be complete without the Philly Phanatic! Yes, he does come down for spring training as well and you'll be so very close to him. It's great for watching his antics. It's a great way to be entertained while they prepare the field after batting practice concludes. That hour between 12:05 and 1:05 could be a bit boring otherwise.
Getting That Autograph!
Batting practice can be a good time to get autographs, although with the new netting, it makes it a bit more difficult.
In 2012 when I came down to Clearwater, I saw Ryan Howard in a cast signing for a ton of fans and Roy Halladay also signing. Others also came over to sign, but one of the most frustrating parts was seeing Hunter Pence making his way past the fans to go to the training room and hearing fans call him all sorts of names for not signing autographs. It was embarrassing as a fan of the game.
It is fun and exciting to get autographs. Just remember, be respectful of the players. They are under no obligation to give you an autograph. Also, if you come with a book of baseball cards or balls to get signed, players may not warm to signing for you as much. Having kids becomes a big advantage here also. Not that I'm suggesting renting a kid for the day to get yourself an autograph! Ha!
Timing For Autographs
Get to spring training early (say late-February or early March) if you want more willing veterans to sign. As spring training goes on, I think some get tired of it and don't make themselves as available. Remember too, the best time is to get autographs when the players have finished for the day (in spring training, for stars, this can be the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th innings).
What You Can Bring Into The Ballpark
I would suggest bringing in some water if you're going to spend a long time at the park (my day usually goes from 9 AM until 3:30 PM). Ballpark food can be expensive, although Clearwater isn't as expensive as some parks I've seen. Bringing larger items like backpacks may cause you to make a return trip to your car. Tote bags are probably your best bet.
AND DON'T FORGET - There Is a Ballgame
On the day I watched the Tigers play the Phillies, the Tigers had brought a split squad team. You'll know this by the SS by the team's name on the schedule. A split squad means the team is only using half of their players and the other half are off playing another team somewhere else. This gives you a chance to see more of the minor-leaguers. There were a ton of players who had no name on their jersey. This means this player may be wearing a major league uniform and playing against major league competition for the only time in their lives. When you think of it that way, it makes spring training all that much more special.
It's an Exhibition Game, Right?
Yes, these games do not matter in the standings. So, you will have to take a different attitude towards them. The manager is not trying to win the game, he is trying to see what talent he has and who should make the big club. So because of that, usually the star players will only play a couple innings and then others will get their chance. You might see a pitcher go two innings and then another go two innings. Sometimes players will be left out there when during the season they would have been pulled. Don't go to a game rooting for a win. Go to a game scouting your own team's current and future talent.
Because you may be spending a very long day at the complex, you may choose to leave early. This is okay. I usually leave by the 6th or 7th inning when the lower level minor leaguers are filling in. By this time, I've spent 6 hours at the ballpark and it just feels like time to go.
Of course, the later it gets into spring training, say late March, the longer the starters will stay in, so you might choose to linger longer as the spring season wears on.
Every Phillies baseball fan should see the Steve Carlton Statue above and spring training at least once. Personally, I was hooked after my first trip. This year marks my 8th year of heading to spring training. I don't go every year, but I make a point to come down every few years. I find it to be a great escape from cold weather and a great way to get myself into the new baseball season. And you can mix in all of the stuff Florida has to offer as well, from Sea World, Disney World, to Busch Gardens in Tampa and the beautiful white sand beaches of Clearwater. Have fun soaking up the sun and don't forget the suntan lotion!
Also don't forget to see my Detroit Tigers take on Spring Training! Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium has recently had a major renovation and is a great place to see a game.