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Truck Day! Equipment heads south for the Phillies’ 75th Spring in Clearwater

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The equipment truck leaves today, and the Phillies are reaching three quarters of a century in Clearwater. Before settling there, they trained in over 20 different locations.

It’s the day many fans have been waiting for all Fall and Winter: the unofficial start of Spring Training as a truck is loaded with the Phillies’ equipment and leaves for the 1,058-mile trip south to the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Florida. In addition to the usual assortment, additional supplies for a pandemic will also be on board:

Items that will be loaded onto the trailers include several masks and plenty of sanitizer for players and front office staff, as well as 10,000 POWERADE cups; 2,400 baseballs; 2,000 short and long sleeve shirts; 1,200 bats; 900 socks; 600 pairs of pants; 600 batting practice hats; 350 pairs of shorts; 300 batting gloves; 250 batting practice tops; 200 fleeces; 200 light jackets; 140 batting helmets; 125 leather and elastic belts; 75 pairs of assorted spike, plastic and turf shoes; 40 heavy jackets; 20 coolers and a half pallet of POWERADE mix; and six bikes.

Pitchers and catchers are due to report by next Tuesday (Feb. 16), with the first workout on Feb. 17th.

This will be the 139th season of the Phillies franchise, and the 75th spent training in Clearwater. Prior to that, for over six decades they roamed from one Spring Training home to another. Like some vacationers who visit many different spots when they’re younger, until they finally find one they like the most and buy a vacation home there, the Phillies spent their first 64 years training in at least 22 different locales. They finally settled in Clearwater in 1947, and have remained there since.

Some highlights from that nomadic history:

1883-97: After being formed in 1883, the Phillies trained most Springs at their regular season home, first Recreation Park, and from 1887 on at National League Park (later renamed Baker Bowl). They did travel at least one year in the late 1800s to Savannah, GA, and another to Jacksonville, FL (in 1889, becoming the first of the current teams to train in Florida). Two other years are notable before the turn of the century:

1898: The Phillies, including Ed Delahanty, Nap Lajoie, and Elmer Flick, hold Spring Training in Cape May, NJ. This article on several teams’ training that year is highly recommended. It was at least the third time the team had trained there.

1899: The following year, while spending the first of two straight Springs in Charlotte, NC, the Phillies begin an annual tradition by wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, as reported by Matt Gelb.

1925-27: Two years after it was built in 1923, the Phillies began a three-year stint at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Florida. Several renovations later, that park is still in use as the spring home of the Pirates. Now going by LECOM Park, it’s the oldest park used for spring training, and the third oldest stadium used by a major league team, after only Fenway Park (1912), and Wrigley Field (1914). These Phillies teams featured Cy Williams (for whom the Williams Shift was named), and a bunch of guys even avid fans of Phillies history have never heard of. Their Spring home in 1926:

1943: Restrictions on nonessential travel during World War II forced the Phillies to stay close to home, and they spent Spring 1943 training at Hershey High School in Chocolatetown, USA.

1944-45: In November 1943 Commissioner Landis banned Phillies owner and President William D. Cox from baseball for betting on Phillies games during the ‘43 season (Landis had engineered the purchase by the 33-year old Cox a year earlier, preventing a sale to Bill Veeck). Cox was forced to sell the team again, and it was bought by R.R.M. “Ruly” Carpenter Sr, who installed his 28 year old son R.R.M. “Bob” Carpenter Jr. as president. That meant that something had to be done about the Wilmington Blue Rocks team, which was an A’s affiliate and jointly owned by the Carpenters and Connie Mack. Mack sold his share to the Carpenters and so the Blue Rocks became a Phillies affiliate, and with travel restrictions still in force, the Phillies spent the 1944-45 Springs in Wilmington.

1947-54: The Phillies train in Clearwater for the first of what is about to become 75 straight Springs, and it all began in a dilapidated ballpark called Clearwater Athletic Field. In this article on the Phils’ spring training history, Rich Westcott quotes catcher Andy Seminick: ”The field was nothing but sand and sea shells and it was brutal.”

1955-2003: Jack Russell was a 15-year major league veteran who settled in Clearwater after retiring from baseball. He became a businessman and later a city commissioner, and in that role was a vocal proponent for a new ballpark to replace Athletic Field. His work finally paid off, and it opened in 1955.

2004: One month before opening their new stadium in South Philly, the Phillies also introduced their new Spring Training home and the home park of the high A Clearwater Threshers. Bright House Field was designed to mimic the dimensions of the Citizens Bank Park. The park was renamed Spectrum Field in 2017.

Below is a chronicle of the Phillies’ Spring travels - states appearing more than once are color coded:

According to the informative BaseballPilgrimages.com...

The Phillies’ spring training association with Clearwater is baseball’s second longest. Only the Detroit Tigers have continuously trained in one city longer. The Tigers have trained in Lakeland every year since 1946.

What’s more, the Tigers also trained there from 1934 through 1942, and only missed ‘43-’45 because of wartime travel restrictions. The graph below uses ‘34 as their start in Lakeland:

Clearwater parks

A) Clearwater Athletic Park, 1947-1954
B) Jack Russell Stadium, 1955-2003
C) Spectrum Field, 2004-2021

With another Spring Training kicking off, here’s hoping the wait next off-season is a shorter one, thanks to a deep playoff run by the Phillies.

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Additional reading:

- The Early Years of Spring Training History: 1886-1910
- Phillies have nomadic Spring Training history
- Spring training in Texas? It was once a big deal
- War restrictions led to odd 1943 spring and season
- Spring Training 1944
- List of Major League Baseball spring training ballparks
- 2013 – The Quasquicentennial Year of Major League Baseball Spring Training in Florida
- “Goats on the way out”