Carpenter Complex still a spring jewel

March 9th, 2016
The Carpenter Complex opened on March 5, 1967. (Phillies)

When the Phillies began training in Clearwater, Fla., in 1947, their Minor League camps were all over the south. Dallas Green got to experience that firsthand in his first year of Spring Training in 1956. He was part of a precamp staff of young arms brought to Clearwater to train with the big league club for a short while.

Green was sent to the team's Triple-A camp in Plant City, Fla., and later dispatched to a Class A camp in Bennettsville, S.C. Ten years later, the Class A teams trained in Leesburg, Fla., while Double-A and Triple-A teams were in Dade City, Fla. Continuity of instruction didn't exist.

Paul Owens, then the director of Minor Leagues and scouting, had a vision: a training facility in Clearwater for all the Minors players. His vision included a large clubhouse in the middle, surrounded by four fields. Owens convinced owner Bob Carpenter and the city to build a new facility sandwiched between Old Coachman Road and Route 19.

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During the dedication ceremonies on March 5, 1967, Clearwater Mayor Joe Turner announced the new facility would be known as Carpenter Field, named in honor of the family that owned the Phillies since 1943. The new facility officially opened nine days after the dedication, and the careers of future Major Leaguers were launched at Carpenter Field.

Carpenter Field was financed by a no-interest $250,000 loan from the Phillies to the city of Clearwater, which was to be repaid over a 10-year period. While the Phils were the primary tenant, the city also used the fields for various baseball programs.

Sometime later, the facility was renamed to Carpenter Complex. The one-story clubhouse structure included rooftop observation areas behind home plate of each field. Owens, scouts and instructors would watch games from this position. The four fields were eventually named in honor of the first four Hall of Famers to have their Phillies uniform numbers retired: Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt.

With a training facility now available, Owens started a Florida instructional league program to be held every September and October. Training facilities at Jack Russell Memorial Stadium were limited, so the big leaguers dressed at the complex for daily workouts until Grapefruit League games began. With the availability of four fields, more work could get done in a shorter period of time, and there was much less standing around for the players.

In 1984, the Phillies placed a team in the Gulf Coast League, a Rookie-level league for young prospects not advanced enough for higher classifications. Games were held at the complex in the afternoon from Monday through Saturday. Seagulls outnumbered the fans.

During the 1987-88 offseason, the city of Clearwater renovated the clubhouse. The original clubhouse structure was gutted and reconstructed to include a second floor. Improvements included a larger athletic training room, more offices, a large meeting room and new lockers. The rooftop observation areas were now part of the second level. The project was completed in time for Spring Training in 2010, and in return, the Phils extended the lease an additional eight years.

The clubhouse was named the Paul Owens Training Facility at Carpenter Complex in 2004 in honor of Owens' legacy of service to the Phillies organization. His bronze bust was unveiled and dedicated on Feb. 22, 2012. The bust, located on the west side of the clubhouse, was commissioned as part of the Clearwater Public Art & Design Program. Stephanie Huerta was the artist and sculptor.

The crowning gem at the complex came in January 2013 with the completion of a new 20,700-square-foot structure located east of the clubhouse. The training center houses a weight room (7,200 square feet) and six indoor batting cages and pitching mounds (13,500 square feet). It also serves as the team's rehab program for injured players. The facility is heavily used in the offseason by a growing population of Phillies players who reside in the Clearwater area. Including Bright House Field, the Phils have the finest training facility in Florida.