Ballpark: Bright House Field
Team: Philadelphia Phillies
With more than three miles of sugary sand beaches and topaz waters, Clearwater sits on the Gulf of Mexico --a gateway to some spectacularly good fishing and recreational activities. Home to Hulk Hogan and the Church of Scientology headquarters, Clearwater has shed its old identity of being a sleepy beach town. Since the massive Flag Building was built in 2004, which covers a full city block, Scientologists have made Clearwater their international command center and maintain an uneasy relationship with non-believers.
But the Philadelphia Phillies, having resided in Clearwater since 1955 (the second longest running team association in spring training baseball), might rival the Scientologists for devotion. Bright House Field, one of
the newest ballparks in the Grapefruit League, features a tiki-hut pavilion that seats 75 fans. On Feb. 27, fans will pile in to watch the Phillies face the New York Yankees and hope to catch a glimpse of one of the team's four pitching juggernauts, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt.
Go the Distance
Fly in to the St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport, which serves a select number of small cities, or Tampa International Airport, which is only 17 miles away. Looking to spend the day as a beachcomber? Hop on the Suncoast Beach Trolley, which begins its route nearby Pier 60 and ends in St. Petersburg, making stops by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the sea turtle nests at Sand Key State Park, a 95-acre park and beach that overlooks Clearwater Pass.
If you get separation anxiety from Bright House Field, La Quinta Inn Clearwater Central is so close you can practically read the state-of-the-art scoreboard from your room. If you aren’t much of a landlubber or a frugal traveler, Sandpearl Resort, the brand new world-class hotel in Clearwater, sits on the beachfront and offers a stay so luxurious Cliff Lee might request an addendum to his new contract. If you are looking for a beach-centric baseball experience, there are scores of resorts and boutique inns and condos located around the Clearwater beach barrier, only 10 miles away from the Phillies’ spring training home.
Casual beach fare is what this coastal oasis does well, and fresh seafood is a must-order item on the menu while you are in town. The Palm Pavilion is a Clearwater institution with an open-air bar popular with the locals, Phillies players and execs. Specials include a waggish “Free Sunset with Dinner,” and daily happy hour, and the restaurant prides itself on putting out predictable, but quality food dishes such as fried clams, grouper sandwiches and more adventurous offerings like gator nibbles.
For early-morning reinforcements, head over to Lenny’s for a gut-busting breakfast before a lazy day of baseball. Lenny’s manager Kevin Schauer, a Phillies “GM” in his own right, can recite the daily breakfast orders of the team’s regulars, including manager Charlie Manuel (turkey sausage and oatmeal). Waiters are decked out in the team colors, and the menu includes “Phan” staples such as scrapple and cheesesteaks.
For a Hooters-esque experience, check out The Tilted Kit Pub and Eatery -- a popular chain of sports bars with Celtic-themed pub food a hop, skip and a jump away from Bright House Field.
Out of Sight
Fish off Pier 60, or book a deep sea fishing charter to hook some of the area’s native gilled residents, which include grouper, king fish, sailfish, snook and tarpon, among 300 species.
Absolute Florida Flats Fishing and Tarpon Fishing Charters, manned by Captain Rich Knox, who has more than 20 years of experience as one of the area’s best local guides, offers private charters and instruction for novices to experienced anglers. With minimums at upwards of $600 for a half-day, private charters can be pricey. For a cheaper alternative, Queen Fleet Fishing Boats charges $50 a head for adults and $30 for children 12-and-under to fish on large party boats that can hold up to 80 people.
Sunsets at Pier 60 is a nightly “dock” festival located on the promenade portion of Clearwater Beach's famous fishing pier, featuring artists, craftsmen and performers with free weekend musical entertainment. Watch a film screening against the stunning backdrop of the Gulf Coast sunset on Fridays or Saturdays, or stroll to local gem The Bait House near the pier for some house-made crunchy kettle chips and a cold beer.
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