Pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 15, and the 2014 spring training schedule kicks off with an intrasquad game on Feb. 25 at Bright House Field in Clearwater.
CLEARWATER — While the rest of the county is mired in the midst of a brutal winter that has seen record low temperatures and enough snow to make Santa say “uncle,” here in Clearwater there's something else on people's minds as the calendar turns to February: baseball.
Spring training 2014 gets underway in just a few weeks, as pitchers and catchers report to most Major League Baseball camps on Feb. 15, with the on-field action to follow shortly thereafter.
Here in Clearwater, officials at Bright House Field are busy prepping for what they hope will be a record-setting spring for the Philadelphia Phillies and summer for the Clearwater Threshers of the Florida State League.
“We're trying to up the ante every year,” said Doug Kemp, special events manager for the Phillies spring training and the Threshers regular season. “We want to keep outdoing ourselves to make the Bright House Field experience special for fans.”
In order to boost the enjoyment for those who attend games at the 10-year-old ballpark off U.S. 19 and Drew Street, officials have scheduled a slew of activities and events that complement the games themselves.
Kicking off spring training, Phillies players will compete in an intrasquad scrimmage at 1 p.m. Feb. 25. Admission is free.
“It's a player-driven event that we started using as a soft opening to get prepared for the spring season,” Kemp explained. “It's a good opportunity for the fans to see the players and enjoy all the amenities Bright House Field has to offer.”
The following day, the Phillies' spring season kicks off with the first of 15 home games, a matinee against the Toronto Blue Jays. The rest of the home slate includes dates with the Yankees, the World Series champion Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves. Because of scheduling quirks, the Tampa Bay Rays won't make an appearance in Clearwater this year.
Kemp wanted to make it known that even though some games are listed as being sold out, the team always has roughly 500 to 1,000 tickets for sale on game day.
About a month after the spring season ends, the Threshers will begin their 2014 campaign against the Dunedin Blue Jays on April 4. Kemp said while the Phillies represent the big draw at the stadium, the team's Clearwater-based minor league affiliate is at the heart of the facility's success.
“The lifeblood of Bright House Field is our summer,” he said. “We have more flexibility with our fan experience, and we're able to do more things to gets fans in the ballpark.”
This year, some of those promotions include post-game fireworks and concerts and $1 Tuesday. Regular features include the Kids Zone; the left-field Frenchy's Tiki Hut; a 360-degree concourse that allows fans to see the game from anywhere in the stadium; and the grass berm where kids can frolic and adults can lounge on beach towels or blankets.
“We have a goal this year to break the FSL attendance record,” Kemp said. “Last year we had 175,000 fans come to the park; the league record is 202,000. We believe with the players we have come through here, the different food vendors we offer and the terrific retail shop we have, we provide an excellent overall fan experience.”
The field has a capacity of 8,500, with 7,000 fixed seats.
“Attending a game at Bright House Field is affordable family fun, and if we can get everybody in our baseball stadium at least once, we're confident we can get them to come back again,” he said.
For more information on Phillies spring training, visit http://tinyurl.com/bv6do7. For Threshers information, go to threshersbaseball.com. And for more on Bright House Field, visit http://tinyurl.com/md38tu3.