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The Phillies’ long and winding road to Clearwater

They’re spending their 77th Spring in Clearwater (and 20th in BayCare Ballpark), but before that they roamed the eastern and southern US.

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Every few years we review the Phillies’ history of spring training sites, and this is another in that series, with several updates.

The Phillies are getting ready for their 141st season, and are starting their 20th Spring Training in the park now known as BayCare Ballpark. Only about a month before opening Citizens Bank Park in 2004, the Phils also introduced the new facility that would be their new home for Spring Training, as well as the home of the A-ball Clearwater Threshers. It was built adjacent to the Carpenter Complex, which had already been the team’s Florida office and minor league spring training site since 1967.

Originally called Bright House Networks Field, with the naming rights going to a Florida TV and internet provider, the name was shortened to Bright House Field in 2013. The new park was designed to match the dimensions of Citizens Bank Park, and also included features not yet seen in Florida’s Spring Training parks — from Baseball Pilgrimages:

Bright House Field broke the standard issue design in the Grapefruit League by adopting two concepts that had proved popular in the Cactus League: an open concourse that encircles the playing field and a berm that spans the outfield. Prior to Clearwater, no other Florida city had a ballpark with either fan-friendly feature. Yet in Arizona, only Hi Corbett Field (est. 1937) had neither.

After Bright House Networks was acquired by Charter Communications, the park became Spectrum Field in 2017, named after one of Charter’s offerings, and evoking another past venue for Philadelphia sports. Then most recently the park’s name became BayCare Ballpark in 2021, under a six-year naming rights agreement with the Tampa Bay area hospital system.

The Phillies have now made Clearwater their home for Spring Training for 77 years. Prior to that, for over six decades they roamed from one Spring site to the next, setting up camp in at least 23 different cities. They finally settled in Clearwater in 1947, and have remained there ever since.

1883-1946: 64 years training in at least 23 different cities
1947-2023: 77 years in Clearwater, in three different parks

It’s worth noting that even before settling in Clearwater, Florida was far and away their most frequent destination, spending 27 of their first 64 Springs there, well ahead of North Carolina (8) and Georgia (7).

Some highlights from that nomadic history:

1880s: After being formed in 1883, the Phillies trained in their home park the first four years, before finally heading south to Savannah, GA in 1887. Two years later, the 1889 team that included lefty catcher Jack Clements and Hall of Fame outfielder Sam Thompson trained in Jacksonville, FL, becoming the first of the current teams to train in Florida, and were reportedly the only team training in the Deep South that year.

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 a good read. It was at least the third time the team had trained there, following 1888 and 1891.

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.

1909: The Phils were enticed to train in Southern Pines, NC:

In January 1909, Southern Pines community leaders wrote Phillies business manager Bill Shettsline asking that he visit and consider the town for spring training. The town renovated the ball field’s grandstand, adding three additional tiers of seating, new floors, braced the stands inside and out, and erected a canopy of canvas to shield the sun.

They came back in 1910, and then in 1913. Owner Horace Fogel was even reportedly considering building a facility there and setting up a permanent Spring Training home. In another Spring piece, Matt wrote about the Phils’ stays in Southern Pines in The weird spring trainings of Phillies past ($).

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 now 77 straight Springs, and it all began in a dilapidated ballpark called Clearwater Athletic Field. The park had been used by the Brooklyn Dodgers for Spring Training in 16 of the prior 24 years. 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 Jack Russell Stadium opened in 1955, named in his honor in recognition for his years of support. The park was the Phillies’ Spring home for 49 years, and also the minor league Clearwater Phillies from 1985 through 2003. While both the MLB and minor league Phillies moved out, the park is still used as the home field for both Clearwater High School and St. Petersburg College.

2004: The Phillies open their new Spring Training facility, now called BayCare Ballpark.

Clearwater parks

A) Clearwater Athletic Park, 1947-1954
B) Jack Russell Stadium, 1955-2003
C) Bright House/Spectrum/BayCare Ballpark, 2004-2023

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

Again from Baseball Pilgrimages...

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:

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


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”