After 175 days of waiting out the harsh Florida winter, baseball finally returns to the Sunshine State and more specifically, to Clearwater, Fla.
The boys in the red, white, and blue make their 65th trip down to the Clearwater area to prepare for another season of Phillies baseball, one defined more recently by winning.
Since moving the team’s operations to Bright House Field and Carpenter Complex in 2004, the Phillies have yet to win less than 85 games in a season, producing four division titles, two MVP’s, and a Cy Young Award winner. More importantly, the team captured the 2008 World Series crown over the local hometown team and have made it to at the least NLCS three years in a row.
A year ago, Clearwater got to see one of the game’s best pitcher in Roy Halladay who delivered the franchise’s first Cy Young Award in over 20 years. When he returned to Florida in May, Halladay hurled just the 20th perfect game in baseball history.
Since losing last year’s league championship to the eventual world champion Giants, the Phils have rearmed themselves. Literally.
The addition of 2008 Cy Young winner Cliff Lee to an already successful and experienced rotation makes this year’s Phillies an easy favorite for playing deep into October.
The buzz that the “Big Four” have made this off season has certainly transferred into the box office as fans are expected to pack BHF to catch a glimpse of the potentially historic squad. Bright House Field set three attendance records for an individual game last spring and you can expect that record to fall in the coming weeks (fire marshal willing).
Another thing that fans will have their eye on is the battle for right field, since vacated by Jayson Werth who is playing for division rival Washington. Veteran Ben Francisco will be taking on rookie, top prospect, and local (born in Zephyrhills) Domonic Brown. Brown, just 23 years young entering the season, was listed as the fourth best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. He patrolled the outfield just two years ago for the Threshers and ascended all the way to the big leagues last season.
Finally, Clearwater fans will be able to watch five 2010 Threshers this spring that have been invited to the major league camp. Justin De Fratus, JC Ramirez, Matt Rizzotti, Joel Naughton, and Harold Garcia return to Clearwater to try and make an impression on manager Charlie Manuel and the coaching staff.
De Fratus was an all-star closer before making the jump to double A, and Garcia broke a 59-year-old record with his 37-game hit streak during a phenomenal stretch of play a summer ago.
So with plenty to look forward to and experience this spring, be sure to make a trip over to Bright House Field and be a part of it.