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May 3 - At The Ballpark: Bright House Networks Field, Clearwater, FL

Note from TheMirl.com: This is the first installment of a semi-regular series by Brian Wilmer reviewing
ballparks from around the country.

My travels recently led me to Clearwater, FL and, while there, I decided to take in a game.  Clearwater is
the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies, and the regular-season home of the Clearwater
Threshers, their single-A Florida State League affiliate.

On the night for which I was in attendance, the Threshers took on the Sarasota Reds, who are in their
first year of existence.

Bright House Networks Field opened in 2004, replacing Jack Russell Stadium.  It
is a very nice ballpark, aesthetically speaking, as it is surrounded by palm trees,
has a Phillies clubhouse store in the left field corner, and has a dining
establishment past the left field wall.  Can all these things save the ballpark’s
grade?  Let’s find out.

Concessions:  B
I had an order of nachos and a soda (standard ballpark fare), and the nachos come in a bag that you
empty into your own tray.  The chips were plentiful – too plentiful, in fact, for the small bit of cheese they
provided.  The soda came in a paper cup (the only souvenir cups were available with a beer purchase,
which is a bad play), and was passable.  Prices were relatively standard, with the total bill being around
$6.

Between-innings entertainment:  C-
The club has a large video screen on their scoreboard, but they almost never
used it.  They showed two different movie clips, and the board sat mostly dormant
the remainder of the time.  The only ancillary entertainment that was provided was
a tricycle race (that took place out past the right field wall, making it virtually
impossible to see from my location), and the usual birthday list.  They also played
a dry playlist of oldies music between innings, and very few players had actual
music played when they came to the plate.  This was one of the worst parts of my night.

Sight lines:  A
I walked all the way around the park via the concourse, and there is really not a bad seat in this park.  I
procured a front-row seat at walkup, sitting in section 108 (next to the visitors’ dugout) for $8.  Even with
the slight angle, everything at field-level was visible without any real effort.  The park also offers several
unique seating opportunities, including Bermuda grass seating beyond the outfield fences, and
Frenchy's restaurant offers stadium-style seating beyond the left field wall.

Promotions:  C
They were giving away duffel bags on this night, and they were only given to those 14 and under.  A
“promotion” they feature after every game is the Launch-a-Ball contest, where fans buy tennis balls to
throw at a tire that is rolled out from the plate.  While this is truly a sight to see, they had four winners on
the night, and they wound up splitting the winnings.

Parking:  B+
Parking is plentiful and relatively easily accessible; however, there is a $2 charge.  This is a bit much,
considering parking for the South gate is basically in a strip mall lot where a Wal-Mart once resided.  
The lot is well lit, and the post-game flow of traffic is pretty good, as the lot dumps onto US Highway 19
on one side, and Drew Street (a relatively large thoroughfare) on another.  There are numerous ways to
leave the park and get wherever you need to go in the Bay area.

Player accessibility:  A-
Both teams were reasonably available for autographs, and Sarasota first baseman Joey Votto signed
his home run ball for a child and his father that recovered the ball in the left field stands.

Quality of baseball:  C
I didn’t expect Gold Glove performances at every position in an A-ball game, but some of the defense in
this game was rather shoddy.  There were some great plays made, as well.  The Sarasota starter (Tyler
Pelland) gave up two earned runs in three innings pitched before being pulled, and his relievers (Daniel
Rincon and Carlos Guevara) performed admirably in his stead, effectively locking down Clearwater’s
bats.  There were not many well-hit balls in this game, except for first baseman Joey Votto’s home run.  
The wildness of the pitchers was magnified by a game-ending wild pitch that hit off the plate area and
bounced into the air, landing 12 rows or so into the stands.

Overall grade:  B
The ballpark itself is a beautiful place, with numerous fan-friendly trappings;
however, attendance was listed at 3200 (capacity is 8500) for a Saturday night
game.  The stadium looked nearly empty at times, and that greatly affected the
atmosphere.  There was also very little music or video interaction with the fans to
help liven up the atmosphere.  The experience was very businesslike.

Comments:  
--There was a guy sitting directly behind the plate (I refer to him as Likes to Heckle Guy) that was
badgering the Sarasota players for virtually the entire game.  I must admit, I’ve heard better heckling at
bingo tournaments.  I suppose A-level baseball brings out A-level hecklers.  This guy was so annoying
that he even drove those without a dog in the proverbial hunt (yours truly, among others) to root for
Sarasota.
--Getting front-row seats was quite the surprise.  I had attempted to book tickets on the internet two
weeks prior, and the best seats they had listed as being available were three rows down the line and
about ten rows further up.  
--This ballpark is a real jewel, especially for an A-ball park.  If they ever get to the point where they fully
utilize everything the park has to offer (the Bermuda seating, the restaurant, the video screens, etc.), this
will become one of the destination parks in the Florida State League.  For now, it plays much akin to a
nicer version of a high school park.