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Couple visit Clearwater each year to see Phillies train

CLEARWATER

It's cloudy and chilly in the Pennsylvania town where Larry and Barbara Good live, but they couldn't be happier. ¶ They're crammed elbow to elbow with 10,000 roaring baseball fans Wednesday, watching their beloved Philadelphia Phillies close spring training on a hot day at Bright House Networks Field.

As children scream and the scent of hotdogs, pretzels and cheesesteaks fills the air, the Manchester couple hoot, holler and clap for their team as it pounds down baseball's elite New York Yankees.

"This is where it's at — right here," says Larry, 72, pumping tanned hands that will be the envy of his northern friends into the air. "If they were in Cuba, I'd be there. We'd both be there. I'd swim there if I had to."

• • •

Oh, say can you see …

As The Star Spangled Banner ripples in the air, Larry covers his heart with a red Phillies cap that sports an autograph from legendary Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt.

Since 1995, the couple have made the 1,000-mile trek to Clearwater's sandy shores each year to watch the team Larry Good once listened to on the radio in an old country store when he was 6.

As the team makes its way to the field, Barbara, 71, uses a small silver camera to shoot pictures to give to an 80-year-old friend she met at a game years ago who's too ill to make it to town.

• • •

Play ball!

The phrase echoes, and Larry, a retired electrician, laments that this will be the last time he hears it live until next year.

Still, that's OK, says Larry, who figures they've spent about $7,000 here in the past few months. They'll have the memories.

Married for almost 45 years, the couple predict the Phillies will have a bad April but come on strong by May. Last year, the team secured the National League East crown on the last day possible.

"I'm trying to be optimistic, but they lost a lot of games early," Barbara says.

• • •

Ice cold beer here!

The vendor yells in the background and navigates his way through throngs of fans now settling into their seats.

The scene is familiar, but even after 13 years of spring training trips, the Goods say it's still exciting. Their relationship with the Phillies is like another marriage for them — except only "for better, not worse," says Barbara, a retired first-grade teacher of 30 years.

• • •

Stomp, stomp, clap!

The fans — particularly the Phillie "phanatics" — are ecstatic. Their team has just knocked in four runs off Yankees ace Chien-Ming Wang.

Larry slaps his right hand into the black Mizuno glove that he brought with him. His wife rises a little out of her seat, clapping excitedly as the players round the bases.

This is as good as it gets, they say on their way to get a few hot dogs — hold the ketchup, just mustard and onions.

The couple, who have no children, say the games are some of their best times in the city. They no longer go to the Phillies' "real" home — Citizens Bank Park — because Larry says they're too old to travel along Schuylkill Expressway, a.k.a. the "Sure Kill Expressway," the name the locals dubbed the main route to the stadium because of the high number of traffic fatalities there.

But while Clearwater residents complain about beach traffic, the Goods chuckle because they make a much longer annual journey here.

• • •

Yer outta here!

The seventh-inning stretch nears, and the Phillies are cruising to victory, but there's a touch of sadness to the couple's faces. They'll soon head to the condo they rented on the beach, where they've spent the past few months, and pack their bags for home.

By tonight, they'll be back in Manchester taking care of their two cats, and Larry will begin planning his tomato garden. Then they'll think about next year's visit.

"We'll be back until we're dead," Larry says, "Even if gas is $5 a gallon, we'll find a way."

Philadelphia Phillies spring training games in Clearwater run from late February to the end of March each year. Annually, thousands, mostly from the Delaware Valley area, make the roughly 1,000-mile trek to Clearwater's sandy shores.

Some other numbers:

16 The number of Phillies Clearwater games scheduled this year

134,000 The number of tickets sold for the Clearwater games

62 The years the team has held spring training in Clearwater, one of the longest spring training relationships with a Florida city, second only to that of the Tigers and Lakeland, which has now surpassed 75 years

$35m Spring training's economic impact

$6m The amount the Phillies directly spend in the city each year

Sources: City of Clearwater and

the Philadelphia Phillies

Couple visit Clearwater each year to see Phillies train 03/27/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2008 8:09pm]
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