Among Changes, Schmidt is Notable in Clearwater

Pound for pound, the excitement of the season opener for the Clearwater Threshers rivals that of the excitement surrounding the opening of Citizens Bank Park next Monday in Philadelphia. Clearwater has a new nickname, which of course means a new logo, to go along with their new stadium and perhaps one of the highest profile new managers ever to hit the minor leagues.

The Clearwater Phillies have always done okay for themselves. Let's face it though, they were always a little boring. Their nickname was simply borrowed from the parent club. Not a lot they could do with the logo, either. Plus, their stadium was nice, but certainly not top-notch. This is not your father's Clearwater baseball team that opens their season against Dunedin at new Bright House Networks Field.

So, most of us have no idea what a Thresher is. Just for the record, it's a type of shark. Technically, it's also a machine that separates wheat, but that's not what the nickname is supposed to imply. While the name might not be the usual type of team nickname, team logo products are selling very well. The Threshers report a 70% increase in team merchandise sales over last year.

Bright House Networks Field is gorgeous. With a huge video display board and all the amenities that a High A minor league stadium could possibly want or need, the new home of the Threshers is probably the best of any stadium at the Thresher's minor league leve. In fact, it likely rivals many other stadiums at higher levels. Since it is also the home of the Phillies spring training, the facilities for players are also all top of the line.

If the nickname, the merchandise and the ballpark weren't enough, perhaps the biggest change is at manager. Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt takes over in his first foray into managing. It's a direction that many thought Schmidt would go into right after his playing days and for others, it's an area that they never thought Schmidt would attempt.

Actually, had everything gone as planned, Mike Schmidt likely wouldn't be managing at Clearwater or anywhere else for that matter. His plan was to conquer the PGA Senior Tour after his baseball days were over. Schmidty gave it a go, but his golf swing, while not at all bad, never lived up to his baseball swing. After a while, Schmidt accepted the Phillies invitation to help coach in spring training and the managing bug hit him.

Again, if it were up to Mike Schmidt, he wouldn't start his managerial career at Clearwater. He would have started at the top. You have to wonder if he would have actively pursued the Phillies job a few years ago if the urge to manage had hit him earlier in his "retirement". You also have to wonder if he would have been considered for the job or perhaps, even gotten the job. No one will ever know.

After realizing that managing was much like playing and that he had to prove himself all over again, Mike Schmidt sought an opportunity with the Phillies. All of that is what led him to Clearwater and his new job as manager of the Threshers. It's a bold new world for the Phillies all-time leader in homeruns. ``Like never taking a pitcher out of a ballgame, never arguing with an umpire, never going to home plate to explain the ground rules. I have never had to do any of that," said Schmidt.

The first potential issue of Mike Schmidt's managerial career is an injury to his star player. Pitcher Cole Hamels will miss a month of action because of a sore elbow. An MRI revealed that there isn't any structural problems with the elbow and the Phillies admit that they may be acting a little over cautiously, but for now, Hamels is shut down. The plan is to rest him for two weeks and then return him slowly to throwing. They imagine that after another two weeks, he should be ready to return to facing opposing hitters. Then, Schmidt will face the challenge of knowing how to manage a recovering pitcher, too.

All opening days are exciting, but in Clearwater, just as in Philadelphia, there is a little added excitement to the festivities. So, put on your Threshers hat, settle into a comfy new seat, put your beer in the cup holder in front of you and settle in to watch a Hall of Famer work his magic in a bold new world.

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