Grapefruiting 2009: Anticipations

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Fri, February 13, 2009 05:30 PM Comments: 5

No matter how old you are, Spring Training in Clearwater is a once-in-a-lifetime experience It’s your chance to be field level with the Phillies as they gear up for the season. And it’s your chance to soak in the sun and enjoy a summer vacation at the end of winter.

Clip list

For those of you going this year, here are some handy things to bring:

  • Sunblock. (I can’t stress this enough.)
  • Camera.
  • Summer clothing. (Shorts will be worn.)
  • Autumn clothing. (At least for night, pack a sweat shirt.)
  • Small bills and change. (Just in case you find meters, toll booths, etc.)
  • Hat.
  • Swimsuit.
  • A change of “going out” clothes.
  • A Sharpie or other permanent marker.
  • A Yearbook or Phillies-related player book for autographs.

Of course, bring your enthusiasm and most of all, relax. More than anything, Spring Training is a vacation for the fan. It’s a chance to enjoy something you don’t get in Philadelphia.

And we’re going …

Phillies Nation will be in Clearwater the week of March 14. We’ll be attending games on March 15, 16 and 17 (the 16th being at Legends Field in Tampa, home of the Yankees). Of course, the Phillies Nation St. Patrick’s Day tailgate is before the game March 17 at Brighthouse Networks Field. Come see us there!


Grapefruiting 2009: Young Guns

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Fri, February 13, 2009 03:45 PM Comments: 2

And when you’re out on the town, you just might drop in on some Phillies. Notably, some Phillies prospects.

Five to watch in Clearwater

1. Carlos Carrasco
For obvious reasons. You want to see if he’s ready for the big leagues. Catch him in Spring Training games for that answer. He had a busy 2008 between Reading, Lehigh Valley and Venezuela. What’s most important is that he maintains his above-average fastball and stays healthy. Next in importance? Control. If he has that, he’ll be good to go by June.

2. Dominic Brown
Everyone is suddenly tooting Brown’s horn because of his Darryl Strawberry-like physique. He might have the talent, too. Watch if his power remains. Kid already has speed and defensive ability; what’s most important as he reaches the higher levels is his ability to pop the ball out of the park. If that stays strong, he’s a big leaguer in 2010.

3. Anthony Hewitt
The first round pick has a long road until Philadelphia, but this will be his first Spring Training. Moreover, he’ll be with the Phillies for a little while, so you can see how he stacks up against comparable Jimmy Rollins. Of course Rollins makes everything look easy, so you’ll see the holes in Hewitt’s game. But watch for flashes of pop, great speed and his eye. If the eye is there, it’ll come together.

4. John Mayberry Jr
Mayberry is important because of his proximity to the majors. The Phillies might call on him early in 2009, much like they did with Chris Snelling in 2008. Mayberry can hit the longball, so focus on his plate discipline. A better eye means a definite shot at the show. A showing that’s more like his trading partner, Greg Golson? Not a good sign.

5. Travis d’Arnaud
The 20-year-old catching prospect might be better than Lou Marson. Many critics say he’s a lot like Marson, but with power. He hit six home runs in just over 200 at bats in 2008, so it’s possible the critics are correct. d’Arnaud will likely start 2009 in Lakewood, just to get acclimated before the jump to Clearwater. But it isn’t impossible to think he could start 2010 in Reading, at just age 21.

Why it’s not a big deal

Despite these hints, Spring Training isn’t do or die for prospects. At the most, it’s the indicator of where they’ll start their seasons. Really, a prospect can rack up mediocre numbers and still receive a promotion. A lot of movement north and south comes from seeing improvements and flaws in the mechanics of a player’s game. So if Carrasco gets buried in a Spring Training start, don’t think that means he’s starting 2009 back in Reading. Instead, watch their composure. Watch their swing and throwing motion.

And watch their attitude away from the game. Say hi to a prospect when you see him at practice — just don’t be that guy who stalks him for an autograph. Please don’t be that guy.


Grapefruiting 2009: Field Scouting

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Fri, February 13, 2009 02:00 PM Comments: 7

Other special moments?

When you realize you’ve met the woman (or man) of your dreams. But you’ve already had four Miller Lites, two Jack & Cokes and three shots of Jager. Then you’re all aburrrrrrrrrrr.

Personal aside

My first night did not go too well in the bars. I met my friend — who was covering the NCAA Tournament in St. Petersburg — for drinks at BayWalk in St. Pete. We went to Wet Willies, having a couple drinks right away. But it was the end of a long first day in the sun of Clearwater, and I was ridiculously tired. Not too long after those first drinks I was standing, head nodding, half asleep on the crowded dance floor. My friend got the hint quickly, and we hopped back in the car. I drove. Window down. Radio blaring. Screaming at the top of my lungs to keep awake, I made it home.

The moral? Take it easy that first day, or nap hard in the late afternoon.

But BayWalk is cool

BayWalk is a two-level structure of restaurants, shops and bars. Well, I remember two bars. Wet Willies was one. I suggest doing BayWalk during the evening if your crowd is a little older, late at night if you want a good scene in St. Pete. The venue features stores such as Ann Taylor, White House/Black Market and Starbucks, while offering restaurants such as Johnny Rockets, Tokyo Sushi and Banbu Hibachi.

Personal aside

My second night in Clearwater was much more successful. This time my friend and I hit Clearwater. An initial dinner at a fish establishment turned in fine results (as did watching the second round of the NCAA Tournament). We wanted to hit the bar, but not right away; instead, we blazed through a round of miniature golf. Greatest $7 ever spent. Once that was over, we took to Shephard’s on Clearwater Beach. There I tried to get numbers, failed, then wrestled a free t-shirt from a girl’s hands. Great times.

The bars

Shephard’s Beach Resort, 601 Gulfview Blvd., Clearwater Beach
Boasting three types of bars, Shephard’s is a great place to spend a night drinking and soaking in the atmosphere. A tiki bar sits on the beach, with a stage for live entertainment all weekend. Inside is a nightclub-style bar.

Grind House Bar and Grill, 1500 McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater
A little more relaxed — if you want a pint with some fish and chips, this is your establishment. Yes, they get action at night, but it’s not dance-style, and it’s much more conducive to conversation. They plug an English-American menu.

13 Cafe and Lounge, 2475 McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater
More of a nightclub, but not as completely crazy, 13 has a Friday ladies night and hip hop DJ. Girls will want girly drinks; guys will get Jack & Coke. If you’re into trying to pick up that lovely lady or handsome man, this might be your spot.

The Freaki Tiki, 28778 Highway 19, Clearwater
With a DJ, outdoor deck and drink specials, this is your classic bar with a warm-weather twist. It’s new, too, so the shine might still be on the ol’ gal when you get there.

Of course, there are plenty more options for partying and scouting out that special partner, but consider this a good primer.

Of course, there’s Tampa …

Tampa is its own big party. One of the best places for 20-somethings, it boasts a slew of nightlife opportunities. Ybor City, a Latino quarter of the city, has a bunch of places to check out. But the place to go? Check out Hyde Park Cafe (www.thehydeparkcafe.com), the absolute place to be for young people in Tampa on Friday and Saturday nights. It may cost you a little to get in and buy some drinks, so go with a pack and enjoy the scene.


Grapefruiting 2009: Field Battles

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Fri, February 13, 2009 12:15 PM Comments: 5

You know what else I’d advise? Not to take too much stock into Spring Training. Seriously.

If things that happened in Spring Training last year were important, then:

  • Brad Lidge would’ve been hurt all season.
  • Ryan Howard would’ve hit .400.
  • Jayson Werth would’ve hit .170.
  • Travis Blackley, Francisco Rosario and Carlos Carrasco would’ve started the year in the bullpen.
  • The Phillies probably wouldn’t have won the World Series.

See? Even position battles are overblown; most times managers know who they want going in, but they want to make sure the player is ready to compete at a high-enough level. We all thought Blackley was a lock for the fifth-starter spot during the Spring. What happened? Adam Eaton still won. Then we thought Blackley could make the bullpen. Nope. Clay Condrey got the pencil.

Information that won’t matter anyway

This year there are two intriguing “battles.” They are:

Fifth starter: JA Happ, Kyle Kendrick, Chan Ho Park, Carlos Carrasco, Adam Eaton
Second base: Marcus Giles, Jason Donald

The first battle is Happ’s to lose. That means he has to perform terribly. Even if he performs marginally, it’s a good chance he wins the job. Park will likely be your 2009 Chad Durbin, used heavily in middle relief early in the season. Kendrick? He could see the trading block. Carrasco will get his chance later in 2009. And Eaton? Well who cares.

The second battle is maybe not even a battle at all. Chase Utley is taking ground balls, as evidenced by a Philly.com photo. He wants to be back by opening night. If he is, there might be a battle for 25th man. That could come down to Giles and Donald, but it’s more possible the front office adds a veteran player (Nomar Garciaparra) around March 25.

So with that information, my advice for the best battles? The minors.

The minors

Watch a practice one morning, when all the minor leaguers are running it out on the Rushmore fields. The coaching staff normally splits the players up into four groups, usually indicative of their expected levels. Your mission, then, is to watch one field for 15 minutes, then watch the next for 15 minutes, and so on. Watch John Mayberry Jr. swing a bat, then watch prospect Michael Taylor swing a baseball bat, then watch Dominic Brown swing a baseball bat. Whose swing is best suited for the majors? Who has pop?

Personal aside

The day I arrived in Clearwater I jetted right to practice and watched some Reading-bound players take some hacks. In the cage where Jeremy Slayden, Brad Harman and Jason Donald. Each had considerable power, but Donald was straight swatting the ball into deep left field. Good power for an infielder, I thought.

Two days later I watch the Phillies play the Blue Jays in Dunedin, and Jason Donald gets some time in the game. He promptly swats two big home runs into left field, receiving huge ovations from the crowd. That’s when I knew Donald would be special. You can have those moments, too.


Grapefruiting 2009: It’s A Philly Thing

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Fri, February 13, 2009 10:45 AM Comments: 4

So when you do make that trip, remember to bring a few of your closest friends, and remember to stay Philly.

Food to make you fat

Nothing means more to a Philadelphian than gross, disgusting, delicious fatty food. And since Clearwater is Philly south for a good lot of the year, there are some options:

Philly’s Famous Cheesteaks, 4375 E. Bay Drive, Clearwater
Cheesesteaks. Duh.

A Taste of Philly, 7810 Highway 19, Port Richey
They boast steaks, Hank’s and Tastykake. You may want to start there.

Cary’s Soft Pretzles, Pinellas Park, 727-548-1194‎
What’s a day at the park without a soft pretzel?

Yes, they distribute Yuengling in the Tampa-Clearwater area. I apologize, I did not scour every bar and liquor store to see if Yuengling was available.

So okay, there are some food options.

Wait …

The big one

Lenny’s, 21220 Highway 19, Clearwater
Moments from the complex, Lenny’s is the place to go for Phillies fans. It’s a Phillies diner with exceptional food. Go for breakfast, but be ready to wait in line. Doors open at 6 a.m. and close at 3 p.m. everyday.

Lenny’s is a great Philly hangout. Are there others?

Other Philly hangouts

Frenchy’s Original Cafe, 41 Baymont St., Clearwater
Fish and drinks make the original Frenchy’s a good time. A usual haunt for Clearwater baseball regulars, sometimes even of the playing kind. They’re the ones with the left field Tiki Bar at Brighthouse Networks Field. In fact …

Frenchy’s Tiki Pavilion, Brighthouse Networks Field
Do yourself a favor: After Lenny’s at like 8 a.m., get to the ballpark and head to Frenchy’s as soon as it opens. Grab a stool at the bar and enjoy the sun and, of course, the game. With a nice beer selection and a nice chance to strike up conversation with a beautiful baby or slick stud, it’s a hot gametime destination. And it stays open after the final out.

Jimmy’s Fish House & Iguana Bar, 521 Gulfview Blvd., Clearwater
Another popular spot for baseball people, it’s at the Holiday Inn on Clearwater Beach.

Of course, it’s Philly this way, too

I would advise, however, not to walk around in Clearwater. No, it’s not dangerous, but it’s a lot of ghost town sprinkled with tourist attractions and restaurants. And roads. Plenty of roads. You’ll want to scope the beaches and look at the golf courses. But for walking around, check out St. Petersburg (especially BayWalk).

Personal aside

You will need a car, or a lot of taxi money. Basically, you’ll want to check out St. Pete for its nightlife and beach scenes, and even Tampa for its college scene (if you’re of that age). Between those cities and the baseball and Philly flavor of Clearwater, you’ll put some mileage on the tires. But it’s worth it.

Gas prices in the area aren’t terrible (comparable to Philadelphia) and if you rent a compact car with good mileage, you might only need to fill the tank once in four days. Considering you’re shuttling between three cities, that’s a pretty impressive feat.

Make sure, then, you have a plan for your trip. You know what times the games are. Plan around the games. If you have a 1 p.m. game, plan your round of golf for 6 a.m. and your visit to Lenny’s at 11 a.m., so you’ll be right near the park most of the day. Head back to your hotel after the game. Change, plan your night and do dinner along the way. Spend the day in Clearwater; spend the night in St. Pete. Rinse, repeat. Flying by the seat isn’t the best idea.


Grapefruiting 2009: Clearwater 101

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Fri, February 13, 2009 09:00 AM Comments: 9

The sweet, clean air of the Florida coast warms your face. Look to your left, it’s a beach. Look to your right, it’s a beach. Look ahead, and it’s clear driving on a straightaway. The windows are down, the radio is blasting. You’re in your Phillies t-shirt and Phillies cap, and of course, a pair of shorts. As the road broadens, you see it ahead: Welcome to Clearwater.

Then you shake your head and smile — you almost forgot where you were. You’re at Spring Training.

Basically, it’s an open Florida town

Clearwater, Fla., population 108,000. But for a few weeks between February and March, the population spikes to — oh who knows. The city is bombarded by Phillies fans from near and far; die-hards who travel down to the coast to see their favorite team spend some time gearing up for the big regular season. The best part about Clearwater is its accessibility: Getting from Tampa International Airport to the Carpenter Complex is a cinch.

First, here’s the Clearwater area:

Now, as you can see (or squint), Clearwater is right on the coast. Route 60 gets you into Clearwater from Tampa (that’s the highway I was metaphorically spitting about in the introduction). Once you get into Clearwater and past I-19, it’s one light. That light is Old Coachman Road. Make a right. Go past Drew Street. Look to your right — there it is: Brighthouse Networks Field.

The Carpenter Complex is not too far away, also to the right. Which is pretty cool.

Four, four, four in one!

Why is it pretty cool? Because it’s four, four, four fields in one place (the heading should’ve clued you in). The complex is basically one giant square, and each fourth of the square is another field, aptly named after the four Mount Rushmore Phillies (Schmidt, Carlton, Roberts, Ashburn). This is where your Phillies work out — sometimes you can spot the AAA group on one field, the AA group on another, the A+ group on another and the A group on the fourth. Other times you’ll see rookie ballers doing their thing. College kids — they’re there too.

Back to the town

Now, besides catching practice and games, there are myriad things to do in the Clearwater area.

There are golf courses (20 in the area).

There are bars and clubs (probably 2,000 in the area).

There are restaurants (including the original Hooters).

There are beaches (everywhere).

There are other practices and games (Yankees, Blue Jays, Reds, Pirates, Rays).

Personal aside

I spent my three days in Clearwater last year going to two games (one at Brighthouse, one in Dunedin), one day of practices at Carpenter, visiting a friend in St. Petersburg, going to four bars over two nights and finding one Sonic (before Sonic opened on Street Road in Philadelphia, mind you). That’s pretty good for three days. But I promise this year will be even better.

And you should, too.

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