It has now been more than three weeks since the 2020 Major League baseball season should have begun. It doesn’t look like I will be using any of my Philadelphia Phillies Sunday plan season tickets this year.

The most popular recent plan from MLB seems to be trying to play in a sequestered area of Arizona without fans in the stands. The last time any fans were treated to live baseball was during spring training, which honestly feels like a lifetime ago.

I hope to watch some 2020 baseball on TV. But I also look forward to the real thing, watching live from Citizens Bank Park. I expect many fans will make plans to visit spring training in 2021 because, well, we have extra ticket money, right? If you’ve never done this, it’s an amazing adventure. I highly recommend it, at least once.

I would like to recap my last visit to Clearwater. Although it was ten years ago, the atmosphere is still the same. The ballparks are built more like minor league parks. In fact, what was then Bright House Field, now called Spectrum Field, is used by the Phillies High-A Clearwater Threshers farm team during the summer.

The players seem so much closer during the Grapefruit League games. The Florida weather is usually fantastic and Clearwater Beach is right around the corner. Every time we went there, we stayed at a hotel less than a mile from the Phillies training camp. Many days we would walk to the ballpark along Highway US 19 rather than drive, passing a swampy area where we would watch alligators lazily sunning themselves alongside turtles. Many other fans would join us. It was a very relaxing walk to the park.

In mid-March of that year of 2010, I flew down to Tampa with my family to visit relatives and friends as well as attend spring training. I had promised to send reports back to another Phillies fan who also had Sunday season tickets. If you read these reports, you will certainly want to vacation there at some point yourself. The players names may have changed, but the circumstances you will find remain pretty much the same.

Letter from March 15, 2010:

[I finally got a chance to send off a report. J.A. Happ looked really sharp on Saturday. It was lots of fun being that close. We almost got autographs of Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, but just missed them. We did get Jamie Moyer‘s autograph, though…and a guy named Brian Bocock. Okay, this is funny, because he was just a late pickup from another team, but here’s the rest of the story…

It seems that if you wear Phillies’ gear anywhere it gives people a bond to you. Other passengers on the plane waiting for flights strike up conversations with you out of the blue. Some of them felt it necessary to name drop. A man beside me explained that he had followed the Phillies for years and had just begun coming to spring training again – this time without his wife, so he could go to any game he chose (I found this part really funny).

Then he said he would “meet up with some of the guys” on Saturday night because he knew Milt Thompson and would hang out with him. Oh, well. Then we talked to this lady who was going to see the Phillies because her son’s best friend, Brian Bocock, was just signed by them and she was excited to cheer him on. My daughter, Dani, and I just smiled at both of these conversations because we are just crazy Phillies fans and couldn’t justify our actions by saying we knew any ballplayers, we just wanted to see the games. At least when we got his autograph, we then knew who Brian Bocock was!

Back to the day’s game. The regulars played through six innings, then came over to the stands to sign autographs before leaving for the day. Jayson Werth looks very scary up close. I don’t know how he can stand all that hair in this heat. Our next stop is Bradenton for a game against the Pirates.]

The best part about spring training is that all the towns are so close, you can drive to nearly all of the ballparks. My son Brandon drove us to Bill McKechnie Field. It took about an hour to get there. It’s an interesting town and the players sometimes drive themselves. We were behind Carlos Ruiz‘ car on the way back to Clearwater. Another note to my friend:

March 16, 2010:

[The trip was easy. Parking is not. Every local and his brother has a small enterprise going by selling “parking spaces” in their backyards. It was hilarious to see people holding up signs for $4 or $5. We chose our $4 spot and walked a short distance to the stadium, which was a bit smaller than Bright House Field. Roy Halladay was pitching, our first time seeing him. So there was a high pop-up near second base. Chase was on the outfield grass, so this was a stretch for him. Roy didn’t even look up, he just assumed the infield would take care of it (Jamie Moyer would have been ‘directing traffic’). Utley ran in and caught the ball…but then he takes time to discuss this with Halladay. You could see Chase was explaining that the pitcher IS a part of the fielding process. We were laughing but I know Roy won’t let that happen again.

Our next game was back at Bright House against the Detroit Tigers. We got an autograph from Brandon Inge and almost got Johnny Damon‘s autograph. We sat with a bunch of people from PA who told us about a great place for breakfast called Lenny’s Restaurant. Apparently the players eat there, too. Sadly, we have only one game left.]

We did go to Lenny’s. It was, and still is, the best breakfast in Clearwater. There are lots of Phillies pictures and memorabilia lining the walls of the restaurant. The food is delicious. Sometimes the line to get in is VERY long, so go early. One last note back to my friend:

March 17, 2010:

[This is my final report. What a week! We are wearing our St. Patrick’s Day shirts. The Phillies are playing the New York Yankees. We got a practice ball, too. When we got to our seats, Dani was able to get TWO autographs – Cole Hamels and Raul Ibanez! That made our day. It was a good game, with Jayson Werth hitting a home run for the win. Joe Blanton looked pretty good and so did Jose Contreras in relief. Utley has been out all week with an upper respiratory ailment. The Phillies won, 6-2.

Now here’s the funny part. We waited with a bunch of fans for the Yankees to board the buses after the game. (I wanted to see Andy Pettitte). After the buses left, we started to walk to our hotel. Then we noticed a young man in athletic wear, carrying two duffel bags with the NY insignia on it. He looked a bit lost, so we watched as he got out his phone and called someone- to tell them he missed his bus. This guy was a Yankee! He must have been a minor leaguer, because we didn’t recognize him. Now this was hilarious- but he managed to get them to hold the buses around the block. We could see the bus from the parking lot. He yelled into his phone that he saw the bus and would run for it. I shouted to him to be careful (he was very polite and said thanks), and he took off like a bat out of you know where- running through traffic. Dani and I laughed hysterically…they really are human, too.

We decided to end our vacation with a nice dinner. We decided on a nice Italian restaurant called Pssghetti’s. (Now closed). The menu was a bit pricey, but this was our last night, so why not? Inside the entrance was a little Italian deli- how nice! We were still in our Phillies green, but we didn’t know anyone, right? We had a rather large group, so the host lead us to a large table in a separate room. When we turned the corner, Dani and I just stared. At the table right in front of us sat Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, and their families with Ross Gload! We were close enough to hear Chad telling Ross how nice the organization is to the players and their families! Wow. If you don’t think it’s hard to act normal with a distraction like that…anyway, we didn’t spill anything or talk too loud or embarrass ourselves. But we sure did a lot of peeking their way. I couldn’t tell you what I had for dinner, except that it was very good. But, I’ll never forget being THIS close to all these ballplayers on this wonderful vacation.]

Back to reality. I’m watching a rebroadcast of Cole Hamels’ return to Citizens’ Bank Park. Are you ready for some live Phillies baseball? I certainly am.

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