Starting about today, the town of Clearwater in Florida becomes a sea of red.
It happens this time every spring — the weekend before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report. Clearwater owes the Philadelphia Phillies and the Phillies owe Clearwater. It is a symbiotic relationship that will resume in earnest on Thursday, the day pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report.
The Phillies pump up the economy every spring with hundreds of employees, many of them highly paid, and thousands of snowbirds, Phillies fans who wear red while walking the streets, eating in the restaurants and shopping in the stories. The Phillies have owned this part of the Florida Gulf Coast between Tampa and St. Petersburg for the past 65 years. It is part of the reason why many of the road games against the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 World Series seemed like a home game, with the crowd wearing more Phillies red than Tampa Bay blue. After all, the Phillies were there longer.
The Phillies not only own the town in the months of February and March, but are a significant year-round presence as they own the 10,000 seat Bright House Field, home of the Clearwater Threshers, the Phillies Double-A minor league affiliate.
Despite the fact that the Phils’ slate of preseason games don’t start until Feb. 26, most of the home games have been sold out already. There are plenty of seats, though, for Phillies spring road games a short trip around Clearwater to places like Dunedin and Plant City.
The team itself is an aging but talented group, and the optimism is based on the perhaps unrealistic hope that this group will remain healthy for the next seven months. That won’t stop the fans from coming and escaping the brutal Philadelphia winters for an oasis.