Phillies Say Goodbye To Jack Russell

For many around the Phillies organization, spring training has meant trips to Clearwater and Jack Russell Stadium. After Friday's game against the Yankees, Phillies spring training at the quaint little park will come to an end, in favor of a new ballpark. No, the Phillies won't be playing their spring training games in their new home in Philadelphia. There may not be as much hoopla, but Clearwater is getting a new stadium, too.

If there is one distinct advantage of the new park, it's that it will be located within easy walking distance of the training fields that serve mainly for minor league players. That means players and fans will find it much easier to be a part of the full spring training experience. With Jack Russell Stadium being a couple miles down the road, hitting both stops was a short car ride, instead of a short walk.

The new facility will be grander, but hopefully, just as comfortable as Jack Russell Stadium. The design incorporates wider concourses and will seat around 7,000 fans for spring training and of course, the Clearwater Phillies. Actually, the stadium will be part of a grander recreation facility, parts of which will be used for public recreation year-round.

Putting together the funding was an example of the solid partnership that has been formed over the years between the Phillies and the city of Clearwater, which the Phillies have called their spring home since 1948. The State of Florida, Pinellas County, the City of Clearwater and the Phillies all chipped together to share in funding the new facility. The new stadium will be built on the site of a former Home Depot building four miles from the current stadium.

The new stadium is a good idea, but to some, it won't be easy to say goodbye to Jack Russell Stadium. "This is going to be like losing your favorite 20 year old Lazy Boy recliner," laments Larry Anderson, who looks at the old stadium as a friendly little bar where everybody knows your name. "For me, it was like being at Cheers everyday." Robin Roberts, who started the first game at Jack Russell, threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Friday's closing game.

Phillies manager Larry Bowa started his spring career with the Phillies at what is now the Jack Russell Stadium parking lot. At that time, the field that stood there, was known as Iwo Jima to the young players who put in time there. Bowa actually credits the horrible conditions with improving his fielding. "If you could field grounders there, you could field them anywhere," remembers Bowa.

So anyway, who was Jack Russell? It depends on who you ask. To some, he was a major league pitcher who pitched for Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, the Washington Senators and the Chicago Cubs from 1926-1940, including pitching in the 1933 and 1938 World Series. To others, he was a prominent city councilman in Clearwater who was the key component of a drive to build a new stadium that would be suitable for a major league spring training complex. Suffice it to say that what is now Jack Russell Stadium might not have existed if not for the pitcher turned politician.

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