A Memorable Spring Training 2022

The rental real estate market for the month of March on Clearwater Beach is very competitive. The Gulf Coast of Florida has always been a popular destination spot for short and long-term snowbirds, and even more so in the COVID era where Governor DeSantis has been liberal about public health mandates while being conservative in his politics.

Baseball has always transcended politics, appealing to fans on both sides of the aisle. So it was a great source of frustration for those of us who had to make the decision well in advance if we wanted to speculate a take a place for the month down here. Even for those making shorter term plans, it was a guessing game regarding work schedule, room reservations, and travel arrangements as to when or if the might see a game as long as the owners and players were locked up in a labor dispute. Story lines ran like this article:

Phillies fans who booked trips to Clearwater for Spring Training frustrated by MLB lockout

A Philadelphia Phillies fan arrives for a spring training exhibition baseball game between the Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays in Clearwater, Fla., Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A Philadelphia Phillies fan arrives for a spring training exhibition baseball game between the Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays in Clearwater, Fla., Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Every year, thousands of Phillies fans follow the team on their yearly migration south to Spring Training in Clearwater, FL. But for the first time in over 20 years, there may not even be a Major League Baseball season for players to prepare for, as players and owners remain gridlocked in contract negotiations.

With a league-wide lockout put in place by team owners, players are currently unable to set foot at any team facilities, meaning the start of Spring Training has effectively been canceled.

While most Phillies fans are skipping Clearwater this year, frustrated by the inability of owners and players to come to an agreement that would allow them to play ball, some plan to make the trip anyway, baseball or not.

Frank Rocco runs the largest Phillies Spring Training Facebook group, which serves as the unofficial hub of activity for many of the 11,000 group members making the trip to Clearwater, a three-mile long peninsula brimming with hotels and restaurants, 25 miles west of Tampa Bay. Members use the group to organize events, swap restaurant and bar recommendations, and revel in recounting seeing players around town.

Rocco first went to Phillies Spring Training in 1971, when he took the high school baseball team he coached, and he loved the experience so much, he’s been regularly making the trip ever since, and now spends eight months of the year in Clearwater.

Frank Rocco with former Phillies announcer Chris Wheeler at a grocery store in Clearwater earlier this month. (Courtesy of Frank Rocco)

“Every season is like a new rebirth. You’re starting all over again… When you start this year, that [.450 batting average] from last year means nothing,” he said. “The anticipation every year of, ‘I think that the Phillies are going to win the World Series.’ It’s just so fantastic. It’s also 82 degrees right now here. It’s paradise.”

As you well know by now, the lockout was finally settled on March 10, 2022, and the clubs quickly put together their revamped spring training schedules. For the Phillies that meant an away game in Lakeland vs. the Tigers on March 18, and a home opener on the 19th vs. the Blue Jays. Hard to believe the Phils are celebrating their 75th year in Clearwater, and that next year will be our 30th year coming! Everything felt different at the outset. While it was good to be back, there was no printed yearbook. Only an online downloadable QR code version was available. But quickly the crowds came, there were still some familiar faces (the Coopers, Joe the Security Guy, and Lemonade Stand Man (just like your grandmother made) saying”no” to dehydration and “yo” to rehydration.

But the biggest news was what Diamond Dave Dombrowski was doing behind the scenes, signing Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. Their two big bats may enable the Phils to take a chance on unloading underperforming players who got off to nice starts in their careers but haven’t make the necessary adjustment yet to visualize them as stars. We’re talking about Rhys Hoskins and Alec Bohm. The addition of the DH to the National League gives the Phils even more flexibility.

The Phils are desperate for a #1 draft pick who pans out. Since Cole Hamels in 2002 they have swung and missed on every pick with the exception of Aaron Nola in 2014. Most of the other picks never made it to the majors or, if they did, were nondescript. The list includes such non-notables as Cardenas, Savery, Hewitt, Collier, Greene, Watson, Gueller, Randolph, Haseley, and Bohm before we get to Stott, the 14th overall pick in 2019. As did Bohm, Stott has enjoyed a stellar Minor and Fall League ascent. But Bohm never looked comfortable in the field, and after a hot start in COVID-shortened 2020 which saw him come in 2nd in Rookie-of-the-Year balloting, he fell off a cliff in 2021 in the field and at bat.

Today the Phils take a short trip to Tampa, a game that wasn’t on the revamped schedule when it was originally issued on March 11. The lineup will feature Schwarber leading off and Castellanos batting cleanup, where they will no doubt be on opening day. Nola gets the start today, and he will be our opening day pitcher by default due to Wheeler’s delayed schedule (that’s Zack, not Chris). Pitching will be an issue this year, and the club’s philosophy will have to rely on scoring enough runs to compensate for questionable defense and a bunch of “ifs” on the mound after Wheeler and possible Nola. Those ifs could just as easily be stiffs, but for some strange reason I’m optimistic. If we’re in the hunt in July, I can see Diamond Dave wheeling and dealing for arms to keep us in the race.

3 bedrooms, Internet, bed sheets
A heated pool
A heated pool
A heated pool

We’ll take a pass on driving over to Tampa for today’s game, opting instead to enjoy one more glorious day in and around Belle Harbor. Although bezbol got off to a late start this spring it once again, to paraphrase Garret Morris has been berry, berry good to us. Looking once again to a return to normalcy, or a better semblance of it, in 2023!

About Leonard J. Press, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Developmental Optometry is my passion as well as occupation. Blogging allows me to share thoughts in a unique visual style.
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