A New Era Is Beginning

2004 promises to be a very exciting year for fans of Phillies baseball. The disappointing finish to 2003 was followed by a strong off-season and a promising 2004. Veterans Stadium closed and Citizens Bank Park awaits its' first fans. But another exciting chapter in Phillies history is about to begin, and this one is flying under the radar.

Two weeks ago, I was in Clearwater for Phillies Phantasy Camp, and had the opportunity, while at the Carpenter Complex, to tour the newest jewel, Bright House Networks Field. For the uninitiated, BHN Field is the new home of Phillies Spring Training games as well as the new home of the Clearwater Threshers of the Florida State League, the Phils' "high-A" affiliate.

Upon driving north on Old Coachman Road, the new park is very unassuming; it looks like a typical Florida-type office building, except for the light towers above the park. The exterior, as I said, is very Florida; palm trees abound, along with a Spanish-style façade. The entrance, on what is the third base side, is a sweeping array of concrete stairs, leading to the concourse. To your left, down what is the left-field line (and before entering the park), are the ticket booths and souvenir store. And there is also an outdoor infield below the ticket booths where you can watch the Phils (or Phils of the future) take infield practice. But the real magic begins upon entrance on the concourse level. For those of you who remember Jack Russell Stadium, the climb up the stairs to the grandstand led to a somewhat spartan seating area, with aluminum seats and bleachers with backs. Looking out into BHN Field, it is an expanse of blue; 7,000 fold-down seats, similar to those being put into Citizens Bank Park.

And the magic doesn't stop there; Jack Russell was simplicity – no luxury boxes or anything of the kind, and seating from foul pole to foul pole. BHN has 20 sections of seats, also from foul pole to foul pole, but also has suites behind the plate (between the bases), and a small club level down the first base line. For those of you bringing you little ones to the game, there is a play area down the left field line at the top of the stadium, near the "Tiki Pavillion". And in those cases where seating will be limited (Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, etc.), there will be seating on the grass berms beyond the outfield wall, which will hold upwards of 1,500 spectators.

Combine the new stadium with the existing Carpenter Complex, and I believe that the Phillies will have one of the best minor-league arrangements in baseball. The Carpenter Complex consists of four major-league quality fields surrounding a clubhouse/office building. It also has a building with batting tunnels and three bullpen areas with at least 12 pitching mounds. The parking used to be a grass field beyond the right field fence at Ashburn Field (one of the four), but with the new stadium, there is work being done to pave the area at Carpenter along with the area near BHN Field.

While I was there that week, I had the chance to also see Jack Russell again, after I saw Bright House Networks Field, and let me tell you…for all the charm and coziness that Jack Russell Stadium provided, BHN Field is 100 times better than the old ballpark off of Phillies Drive. Jack Russell is one of the last reminders of baseball in the 40's and 50's; Bright House Networks Field is truly 21st century in its' design and amenities.

A new era of Phillies baseball is beginning, and the overture will be played out beginning on February 19th in Clearwater, at a sparkling new facility, leading to another sparkling new facility in Philadelphia opening in April. The countdown has begun…

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