Since 2010, the start of spring means that I am traveling to a new city to attend the AAG Annual Meeting. The 2014 conference was in Tampa, Fla., which was a slight letdown because Tampa doesn’t scream “tourist destination” to me. However, I was optimistic that I could see the Tampa Bay Rays play at Tropicana Field and maybe catch a few minor league games.
As it turns out, MLB’s schedule makers had the Rays on the road during my conference. However, with five teams within an hour drive of downtown Tampa I had the opportunity to visit my choice of minor league ballparks. The first stop was Clearwater because I had a New Year’s resolution to get my photo taken with the Threshers‘ mascot, Phinley, after casting many ballots for him during the 2013 Mascot Mania contest.
As the conference approached, I made sure to circle a Threshers’ game on the schedule. I ended up going on the day that I arrived, and went to the game with a pair of fellow geographers. We arrived at the stadium just as the National Anthem began, and got fantastic seats behind home plate for $10.
Although I didn’t know much about the statute before coming to the game, I learned after the fact that it was designed by a local sculptor. Kevin Brady has done a variety of works for the Salvador Dali Museum in nearby St. Petersburg (see more of his work here).
As I attended a Tuesday night game, I didn’t get to enjoy any special giveaway item, but I did get to enjoy floridacentral Credit Union $1 Tuesday.
We didn’t make it into the stadium for first pitch, but I was able to get my customary photo from behind home plate. Unfortunately, I just missed getting a photo with the first batter for the Tampa Yankees at the plate.
Over the past few years my interest in getting my picture taken with baseball mascots has grown, and it’s become of a bit of an obsession when it comes to minor league games. Thankfully one of my travel companions, knew about this interest and quickly pointed out Phinley approaching as we neared home plate. So he encouraged me to get my photo with the landshark. So I was quickly able to fulfill one of my MiLB resolutions.
Whenever I go to a ballpark, I always try to find something unique to that stadium/city/region to eat. My preference is to find an encased meat, such as a hot dog, bratwurst, or sausage of some kind. However, in Clearwater that was not going to be the case. From my online research, I knew that the stadium had Philly cheesesteaks from Delco’s Original Steaks and Hoagies, which has locations in Chadds Ford, Pa. (25 miles southwest of Philadelphia), and Dunedin, Fla.
On dollar beer night, I opted for what one of my companions calls his “cheap beer” of choice and paired the cheesesteak with a Yuengling Lager.
The cheesesteak was pre-wrapped, and adhered to the original cheesesteak recipe and used only onions. However, these were diced onions and were not sauteed to my liking, and I wanted a bit more spice to my dinner so I topped it with a variety of hot peppers. I’m not a cheesesteak expert, but it was a great meal and the provolone cheese was melted into the meat to offer a creamy taste.
Like many ballparks in Florida, Bright House Field also serves as a Spring Training facility. The Philadelphia Phillies have trained in Clearwater since 1947, and moved into Bright House Field in 2004. As a Spring Training site, the stadium has just as much Phillies branding as it does Threshers marks.
As a Spring Training facility, Bright House Field has a much larger seating capacity than a standard High-A stadium. However, it also has a few more amenities than other ballparks at that level. While many Minor League stadiums are getting newer and bigger video scoreboards, there are still some at the lower levels that do not have this feature. I can’t say for sure whether the Threshers would or would not have such a scoreboard without playing at a Spring Training site, but they do and in addition have a nice outfield berm.
While wandering down the left field line, I made sure to capture a view of the grandstand and seating bowl behind home plate, too.
Perhaps my favorite part about the ballpark’s amenities was the tiki bar in left field. It is sponsored by Frenchy’s, which is a local chain of restaurants noted for their grouper sandwiches.
In front of the tiki bar is a large seating area, and even though it was a bit chilly that night it didn’t dampen the crowd’s spirits. The crowd wasn’t too raucous, even though Phinley was fraternizing with the locals.
After the three geographers bellied up to the bar, I asked the people in front of us to take a picture of the trio together. I got my camera back, although it seemed like I may have harshed the woman’s buzz.
Not far from the tiki bar, we found an advertisement promoting the upcoming summer concert schedule. While I understand it’s minor league baseball, I got a laugh that Jamie Lynn Spears was promoted as “(Sister of Britney Spears),” as if music fans wouldn’t know her otherwise. Seriously, if I lived in the area I would probably attend the concerts on May 30 and June 20. I genuinely like Journey, and absolutely love funk music.
Like most minor league stadiums, Bright House Field has an extensive kids’ play area. In addition to the playground, it has a ball toss apparatus that attracted a handful of kids.
The game ended with the Threshers’ rally falling just short in the 9th inning, but the night concluded with a launch-a-ball contest. It’s become common fare at minor league stadiums to sell tennis balls and allow fans to throw them onto the field aiming for targets to win a variety of prizes.
While the weather was overcast and a little nippy by Florida standards, it was a great experience. The food was reasonably priced, the workers were friendly and the stadium had a plethora of entertainment options. It’s also important for me to say that while I’m not a Phillies fan because I grew up in the Atlanta area cheering on the Braves in the early-’90s, I am definitely a fan of the Threshers and their friendly landshark.
Final: Tampa Yankees 7, Clearwater Threshers 6