On the Road: Turning Back the Clock in Clearwater

Road Trip number one of the 2012 season — and 11th (or so) of my MiLB.com career — kicked off on Friday. I flew out of Newark and into Tampa, then drove to Minor League Baseball’s headquarters in St. Petersburg (check out MiLB.com for more on that, as well as a future post) before making my way to Clearwater’s Bright House Field.

The first individual I met upon arriving at the facility was Threshers media relations assistant Joe Charlton, who reminded me that it was ’70s Night. I’m not sure that I would have known, otherwise.

Really, though, I needed no reminding. Going into my visit, I was struck by the number of people (both fans and front office employees) who emailed me something along the lines of “Awesome! It’s ’70s Night! Get ready for [a post-game concert by] Disco Inferno!” Decade-themed evenings are common across the Minors, of course, but this level of enthusiasm for such a promotion was new to me. (And, yes, when people email me they often bracket portions of their own quotes in anticipation of me quoting them later on. It’s hella meta-y, my dear Watson).

But we’ll return to “Me decade”-related ephemera in just a moment. Because at this juncture in the evening, food was the number one concern. After eating literally nothing all day (these road trips do a number on me, I tell ya) I was more than happy to be treated to an order of mini-corn dogs. They tasted great, even after I dropped the container and then had to pick them back up off of the floor. (Yes, ladies, I’m still single).

I enjoyed my mini-corn dogs in the solitude of the press box, which is equipped to handle the hordes of reporters who cover the Phillies here in Spring Training. But during the Florida State League season, the press box can be a lonely place.

One of the most unique things about the press box is this framed piece of “artwork” — it commemorates a dent made by a Ryan Howard foul ball during a 2009 Spring Training game. Howard signed it himself, with “W.O.B.” standing for “Watch out, bro.”

Watch out indeed! The wall is a good 20 feet behind the press box windows, meaning this had to have been one absolutely vicious line drive. Some perspective:

But this being Florida, the press box contained more than memorials to murderous foul balls. There was also this:

If you’re a member of the media who catches on fire, then you’re out of luck. But at least the team has your equipment covered.

But enough from the press box. I soon took to wandering Bright House’s 360 degree concourse, and along the way ran into many reminders that it was indeed ’70s night.

Timberlake: Bringing sexy back

The above individual is Threshers GM John Timberlake, who in surveying the sparse crowd in the game’s early-going said “We’ll have people trickling in all night. There will even be some people who are only coming for Disco Inferno.” Phinley, like his GM, certainly wasn’t stressing it.

Phinley, in addition to giving me (and everyone around him) an enthusiastic thumbs-up, pointed at a sign that was hanging on a fence outside of the stadium. “What’s the deal with that?” he seemed to be asking.

An uprising appears to be in the works against the Threshers, whose operation is allegedly harmful to nearby amphibious life. I’ll be curious to see what comes of this nascent rebellion, as scuttlebutt obtained from confidential sources indicate that it should get interesting.

But putting the above accusations and innuendo aside, it’s clear that the Threshers do a lot of unequivocally good work within the community. For example, if a post-game concert by the Black Honkys isn’t going to make you aware of prostate cancer then I’m afraid that nothing will.

But many of the signs to be seen around Bright House on this special evening were — surprise! — 70s themed. Well, almost all of them.

That saying is from the '70s? Aye carumba!

More appropriate to the era was this:

Helen Reddy, you are woman! Meanwhile, a lot of fans were getting “reddy” for their Friday evening over at Frenchy’s Tiki Bar. The Tiki Bar is one of the signature aspects of the Threshers game day experience, and it attracts a robust crowd even when other portions of the stadium are sparsely populated.

The Tiki Bar is located in left field, and its tropical vibe sets the tone for the rest of the stadium.

Yes, Gulf Coast League action is close at hand. Just turn to the left:

Also close at hand from this vantage point are the home and visiting bullpens. They allow for ample fraternization between enemies.

The view from afar:

You’d think that mini corn dogs would be enough, but I was intrigued by the following concession stand:

610 is Philadelphia’s second-most authentic area code, so I felt compelled to get a cheesesteak. It was paired, as cheesesteaks often are, with a Yuengling draft.

My verdict would be a 7.0 — above average (especially for Florida), and the Amoroso rolls were a nice touch. But it was a little bland, and I like the onions to be a bit more on the sauteed side than these were. This concludes my amateur food criticism, so that we may return to my true passion:

Amateur photography coupled with amateur descriptions thereof.

The Threshers pulled out a 4-3 win in this ballgame, and I apologize that this post had even less baseball action than usual. Pressed for time and just plain overwhelmed at the start of yet another road trip, I went into full-on “wander mode” and ended up neglecting that aspect of the experience. I’ll do my best to be more well-rounded in the future.

Well-rounded like a tennis ball, gleaming in the Florida night as it sails toward a tire that had been arbitrarily rolled onto the field from home plate. Truly, nothing says “Minor League Baseball” like the images that result from post-game “Launch-a-ball.”

But while this was going on, Phinley and all his pals were streaming toward left field for Disco Inferno. (Just go with me on this one)

Ladies and gentlemen: Florida’s #1 Disco tribute band.

Okay, so here’s the thing about Disco Inferno, and the Threshers’ 70s Night in general: people were really into it. A lot of fans were dressed up on their own accord, and I was told that some of these fans won’t be seen again until ’70s Night 2013. In my own experience this was the most enthusiastic response to a post-game concert that I’d ever seen, and there was a pervasive spirit of fun and celebration in the air.

Truthfully, I needed it. These road trips are great, but they stress me out more than anything else I’ve ever done on a professional level, ever. I’m a one-man show, making it up as I go along, and there are seemingly infinite logistical things to take care of at all times. I have a hard time escaping the feeling that I’m just not doing it right (whatever “right” is, in this case). So, when the show started, I was like “I’ll see a song or two, then jet back to the hotel to start writing.” But a couple of people handed me a couple of beers, and I relaxed a little, and pretty soon I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face. Watching a multi-generational group of people having an unabashed (and totally unselfconscious) good time at a ballpark on a Friday night was just wonderful to see.

Clearwater parties into the night:





  1. Minoring In Baseball

    Great post, Ben. I learned I my trips that’s it’s not just the baseball that makes these Minor League teams fun, but the interaction with the employees and fans. Your pics capture the spirit on amiance, and that’s what counts. Can’t wait for your next one!!

  2. Dave Deas

    Glad you had a great time! Great article and it was good to meet you! I will keep you updated on the amphibian angle…

  3. bethist

    Highly entertaining post. The post-game “Launch-a-ball” photo, while blurry, is classic. Glad you’ve been able to relax (or “chillax,” despite its dubious ’70s origin) a bit.

  4. Pingback: Ballpark Visit ALERT: Bright House Field (Clearwater, FL) |
  5. possum187

    Your first road trip of 2012 coincided with mine, so I’m just now catching up. Never mind the 51s were out of town, the only baseball I watched was Mariano Rivera attempting the worst jumping catch attempt ever, and there were significantly more blackjack tables on my road trip. I’ll steer away from my initial reactions to Clearwater’s location in my least favorite state and being affiliated with my least favorite team (who blew 6 and 4 run leads in the same game, *ahem*Go Braves *cough*). Crazy bullpen situation there! Wonder if they rush the field when the benches empty or if they just stand up & look around? Glad you had some fun on your first night, travel safely brother.

    PS, no launch a ball can contend with my sweet showing in Winston last year. Except for the time I won free tickets to a future Braves game in Greenvile…on the final weekend of the Braves final season in Greenville. LOL

  6. Pingback: MiLB.com’s Ben Hill conquers Florida and finds diamonds | Bus Leagues Baseball

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