BayCare Ballpark is home to the Clearwater Threshers, the Phillies’ Single-A affiliate. It’s also served as the site of the Phillies’ Spring Training camp since 2004.
Outside the main gate, atop a sparkling fountain reflecting the ever cloudless blue sky above, is perched Steve Carlton. Dipped in bronze while still alive, Carlton is perpetually frozen in a pitching pose until time itself ends. It’s a beautiful location to take pictures with your family, and a testament to the undying resolve of Phillies’ fans to do whatever it takes to preserve their long and glorious history.
Attending Spring Training at least once is considered a rite of passage for any true fan of the Fightins. Clearwater (or ‘Clearwooder’ for those of you who own kitschy tee-shirt shops), is a pleasant city on the Gulf Coast of Florida and is reasonably affordable to visit. Spring Training game tickets are very budget friendly but they sell out fast so it’s recommended you plan your trip well ahead of time.
Bear in mind that most of the big name players don’t remain on the field for the entire game. By the later innings you will be watching a Triple-A game. Even so, it’s worth going.
Allow me to share with you some tips on how to affordably visit Clearwater that I’ve compiled after attending games over the years at BayCare Ballpark.
Getting to BayCare Ballpark
I recommend you use some sort of ground or air transportation. You can get there by water, which is fine if you have a friend with a boat and have experience with landing craft.
Advice from TGP’s resident idiot who taught Yoshimi karate: never own a boat. They’re money pits and a liability. Don’t believe me? Ask the dude who owned the Lusitania.
The road to Clearwater is yours alone to take and no one may follow, and once there you’ll find no escape. It’s Hotel California without the raspy charm of Don Henley’s vocals. You know you’re getting close because as you approach the city limits your radio will only play Steely Dan and early Rolling Stones. In the rear view mirror you can actually see the cliff over which our society plunged in red white and blue flames. As Mick Jagger croons about the girl with faraway eyes, for the first time it will dawn on you that your optimism is a dead joke and we will never emerge from this Uzumaki death spiral.
Parking fills up fast at the ballpark, so arrive early.
Getting around Clearwater
The city lies between Old Tampa Bay to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west. BayCare Ballpark sits roughly in the middle. With the streets laid out in a grid and a couple of intersecting main boulevards serving as easy landmarks, it takes only a day or so before you’re familiar enough with the roads to navigate without relying on GPS.
The roads in Clearwater are paved and in relatively good condition when not submerged under water. When they are submerged in water, the fishing is pretty decent. The sharks on the streets aren’t nearly as numerous or dangerous as in Destin, but they still pose a threat when in sharknado form.
Advice from TGP’s resident idiot and author of Ulysses: it’s only an island if you look at it from the water.
Traffic is terrible if you come from a place with no traffic. If you come from a place normally choked with traffic then driving through Clearwater will serve as a welcome reprieve.
You can walk to wherever you want to go, but you will likely die from heat exhaustion. Still a choice.
Where to stay
Until this year, the cheapest option for a week-long stay in Clearwater was to buy a house along the beach and then when it was time to return home, burn it down. Interest rates have made this option no longer financially viable. Thanks Obama.
Advice from TGP’s resident idiot and disbarred defense attorney: Do NOT burn down your house or any structure, even if it’s just for funsies and not part of an insurance scheme. You will go to prison. And not cushy Federal prison, but one of those privately-owned state prisons where meals consist of rancid potatoes and unfiltered waste water that will almost make you miss living in Jersey.
When we stay in Clearwater, we use Airbnb. It’s more affordable than hotels and motels and gives us more space.
Last year, on our first night, we stayed in an apartment located in the complex across the street from the ballpark. We walked to Lenny’s for breakfast and afterwards walked to the ballpark. The downside was the apartment was cramped and the other residents eyed me like they wanted to put a knife in my face. My bad for cranking up the Pearl Jam, man.
For the rest of the trip we stayed in a house on the Gulf side of Clearwater near the beach. It was only a ten- to fifteen-minute drive from the ballpark and it allowed us to stretch out more. It was also home to world’s oldest cat which was blind and lived in the laundry room. Every once in a while it would stagger around it’s small room and cry out. The positive takeaway is the trauma from witnessing this poor creature’s plight displaced the trauma from everything else I experienced in my life, so I have that going for me.
Airbnb does have its drawbacks as it effects the availability of housing in some areas. I’m just going to sit here and sip my coffee and tap my fingers on the table until you’re ready to move on to the next topic because I don’t have a solution to the damn housing crisis caused by what was supposed to be a gig economy driven by individuals but turned into a disaster driven by investors. Any-who…
According to the rules we all agreed to as Phillies’ fans, when visiting Clearwater for Spring Training you are mandated to eat breakfast at Lenny’s. This small diner is within walking distance of the ballpark. The menu offers plenty of variety and the quality of the food is good. Supposedly players and coaches can often be found enjoying breakfast here, though, disappointingly, we only saw Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. They sat at the next table and wouldn’t stop asking questions about what it’s like to write for The Good Phight. I understand it’s an emotional rush to meet your heroes, but let me eat in peace, you know?
Each table is provided with a basket of complimentary fresh pastries.
Advice from TPG’s resident idiot and staff nutritionist: eat the damn pastries. They’re heavenly and worth popping an extra Metformin to prevent a diabetic coma.
Further into the heart of Clearwater, Papa’s New York Diner will scratch that itch for a club sandwich at 2:00 AM. Clear Sky on Cleveland offers a mix of everything from grouper to humus to a meatloaf sandwich, and it’s all delicious. It’s recommended you make a reservation online before showing up.
Advice from TPG’s resident idiot and inventor of sound: the man who calls to you from the shadows behind Papa’s New York Diner is NOT Smarty Jones from The Good Phight. Do NOT carry out his orders. Do NOT give him money. Do NOT hide evidence for him. You can do these things for the real Smarty Jones, but not the imposter in the zebra mask.
There’s also a Wawa in town. It’s most likely real.
Eating at the ball park
You traveled nearly a thousand miles from the Delaware Valley to a new and exotic land, full of interesting new cuisines to amuse the palate. So the first thing you need to know is where to find a decent cheesesteak. The Home Run Grille, which has the benefit of being in the shade, serves up a respectable ballpark cheesesteak as well as other familiar staples.
A handful of additional eateries offer your normal ballpark fare - hot dogs, burgers, soft pretzels, wings, Cuban sandwiches, chicken salad sandwiches, club sandwiches, Italian sandwiches, alligator sandwiches, fried banned textbook sandwiches, and so on. There’s also a place to get ice cream. My kids, who are grown adult people now, insist on getting Dippin’ Dots because I raised them to fear adulthood. Again, my bad.
Advice from TPG’s resident idiot who is often indicted but never convicted: raise your children to fear adulthood; it’s the only way we’ll remain dominant over them.
Continued in Part 2
Come back tomorrow for Part Two in which we’ll discuss the best sections to sit at BayCare, fun things to do at the ballpark, the merch store, and attractions to enjoy with the entire family around Clearwater.