The Phillies will open their 75th Spring Training in Clearwater, Fla., next week.
It is a place every Phillies fan should visit at least once.
“Most of us feel like it’s a second home,” the late Paul Owens told The Tampa Tribune in 1996. “It’s always been a good relationship, and all of a sudden you look up and 50 years have gone by.”
Before the Phillies settled in Pinellas County, they trained in 20 different locations in 10 states from 1900-46: North Carolina (Washington, Southern Pines, Wilmington and Charlotte), Virginia (Richmond), Georgia (Savannah and Augusta), Alabama (Birmingham), Arkansas (Hot Springs), Mississippi (Biloxi), Texas (New Braunfels), Florida (St. Petersburg, Gainesville, Leesburg, Bradenton, Winter Haven and Miami Beach), Pennsylvania (Philadelphia and Hershey) and Delaware (Wilmington).
A few tidbits about the Phillies and Spring Training:
• The Phillies wear green caps and jerseys on St. Patrick’s Day. They wore green for the first time in 1899, when they held camp in Charlotte. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, “The Phillies burst upon the startled natives this morning in their new sweaters trimmed with green. The collar is of a hue the like of which has never been seen this side of Ireland, and then, to accentuate it, there is a band of green running all the way round. Altogether white and emerald make it a striking combination.”
• Famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley made one of her final public appearances before a Phillies spring game at Cooke Field in Leesburg, Fla., where they trained from 1922-24. According to the Orange County Regional History Center, Oakley “balanced on one leg and shot at pennies tossed into the air, hitting a dozen without a miss. After she blasted five eggs … tossed into the air while she shot left-handed, the Phillies ‘broke into applause.’”
The only thing fired at a ballpark these days is the Phanatic’s hot dog launcher.
• Before Clearwater, the Phillies had their longest stay in Winter Haven from 1928-37.
• Because of World War II travel restrictions, they held camp in Hershey, Pa., in 1943 and Wilmington, Del., in 1944-45.
• The Phillies decided to move from Miami Beach to Clearwater in July 1946, signing a one-year contract to play at Athletic Field. Cleveland and Brooklyn previously trained at Athletic Field, located at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Seminole Street. The site is the current home of the North Greenwood Recreation Center.
• The Phillies made their first trip to Clearwater in late February 1947. Some players with families had trouble finding housing because rooms at the Ft. Harrison Hotel were “impossible” to get and renting a house is “fabled fantasy unless, of course, you are willing to pay from $500 to $2,000 for the month,” according to the Inquirer. It seems that pricey accommodations have been a tradition in the “west coast resort town” for more than 75 years.
• The Phillies signed a 10-year contract with Clearwater in March 1947. According to The Tampa Tribune, Phillies manager Ben Chapman signed the deal, while The Associated Press said Phillies director Wister Randolph signed for owner Bob Carpenter. In the contract, the Phillies agreed to install a $6,000 sprinkler system at the field, with the city paying back the Phillies $5,000 over 10 years.
• Athletic Field had seen better days by then. The Inquirer described the outfield as a “bucket of sand.” Andy Seminick remembered the outfield being nothing more than sand and seashells.
• The city eventually committed $400,000 from taxpayers to build Jack Russell Stadium, located two blocks east of Athletic Field. Jack Russell became the Phillies’ new spring home in 1955, built to the dimensions of Connie Mack Stadium. They played there through 2003.
• Clearwater gave the Phillies 30 acres on an old landfill to build Carpenter Complex just off U.S. 19, which opened in 1967. It cost $300,000.
• Former Phillies president Bill Giles said in 1996 that Jack Russell “is the best baseball park in the world. I would compare it to Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.” Eight years later in 2004, the Phillies opened Spectrum Field (then called Bright House Networks Field) right next door to Carpenter Complex.