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March 05, 2019

A game plan for seeing the Phillies in Clearwater

Where to go before and after Bryce Harper's debut.

Travel and Leisure Phillies
0304_Bryce_Harper_Phillies_USAT Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will make his Phillies spring training debut this coming weekend.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler and general manager Matt Klentak shouldn't be the only folks in Clearwater with a plan. Phillies fans traveling to Spectrum Field to catch Grapefruit League action and Bryce Harper's debut on Saturday should have an idea of what to do and what not to do when flying to Florida.

Think about where you'll spend most of your time

The typical rookie mistake is booking a hotel at the beach. That's not prudent if catching spring training baseball is the reason for your trip. Games typically start at 1:05 p.m. The ballparks are typically a half-hour or more from the beach, including Spectrum Field. If you plan to arrive at the ballpark at around noon, depart around 11 a.m. The games usually end around 4 p.m. By the time you reach your hotel, the sunset is on the horizon. A beachfront resort isn't just expensive. It's not pragmatic.

Real estate is all about location. Tampa is a very good place to be in March for those captivated by the Grapefruit League. The Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel and Marina is comfortable and centrally located. The Waterside is a half-hour drive across the Courtney Campbell Causeway to Spectrum Field, which is about the same distance from Clearwater beach.

What Phillies fans should also take in consideration is that the Phillies will also be on the road. The Waterside is just a short car or Uber ride (5.8 mIles) from Steinbrenner Field, where the Yankees play. Tampa is just 40 minutes to Lakeland, where the Tigers play at Publix Field and 45 minutes from Bradenton, the home of the Pirate's beautiful LECOM Park. It's an hour to the Braves park at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista and just over an hour to Sarasota where the Orioles perch at Ed Smith Stadium.

The Amalie Arena, the venue of the NHL's pacesetting Tampa Bay Lightning, is just across the street from the Waterside. The upbeat environment at Lightning games is reminiscent of the playful atmosphere at Sixers games and the Lightning are by far the most dominant team in the NHL.

It's not just about ballpark fare

Peanuts, hot dogs and crackerjacks, as well as a drink at the Tiki Bar at Spectrum Field, at the ballpark are fine but it's not a bad idea to explore life outside of the yard. 

Every Phillies fan is drawn for good reason to Lenny's. The iconic breakfast joint serves up huge, delicious omelettes. It's' difficult to pass on the redneck Benedict (country sausage patties served over a biscuit with two poached eggs slathered in country sausage gravy.) Start with a strong cup of coffee to go with the complementary basket of danishes. However, if you visit on game day, plan on long lines, even if you arrive at 10 a.m. It's best to arrive at Lenny's when the Phillies are on the road. It's worth the trip as you enjoy breakfast while staring at the array of Phillies memorabilia with some Toronto Blue Jays items in the mix as well. After breakfast, venture across the street to the baseball complex and watch the players, who didn't make the road trip work out.

Frenchy's in Clearwater Beach is a Phillies fan staple. Try the grouper, seafood gumbo and the fish tacos. Frenchy's is a great place to hang. Imbibe with your pals and who knows what you will experience? Phillies broadcaster Larry Anderson enjoys the laidback watering hole. Even some players have been known to pop in for a drink. Jayson Werth used to slam back a few cold ones during his impressive run with the Phillies. Frenchy's is the perfect place to hit after the game as you watch the sunset with a libation.

Guppy's on the Beach in Indian Rocks, which is two beach town's from Clearwater, is an under-heralded gem. The seafood is fresh and inexpensive. The local gulf grouper piccata, potato crusted salmon and the seafood bowl are worth the trip.

Indulge in a beach day

If you have time, have fun at the beach. Clearwater Beach is pleasant, albeit packed during the weekend. Indian Rocks is quiet, spacious and pretty. It's worth a run to Fort DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg. It's 45-minutes from Clearwater but it's a state park that is routinely on top ten beach lists in the country. It's pristine and wild life abounds. During an early morning visit last year, we were walking along a cove and heard splashing and it was a school of dolphin five-feet off the beach. There are stingrays, crabs that look like they're from the Paleolithic era and we've seen fish with razor sharp teeth lying on the beach.

Always give yourself more time

The red lights are as long as the lines at Lenny's on US 19. Construction is common, particularly around Spectrum Field and there are a number of inexplicable accidents on the highway. It's hard to figure out why there are so many collisions since the weather is often perfect. Just make sure you leave early for games. Also, check what is allowed in the park. Rules change constantly.

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