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Clearwater, Dunedin spring training fields offer study in contrasts

Clearwater has a sleek, modern stadium, a testament to big baseball, complete with party suites and a video scoreboard.

Dunedin has a neighborhood ballpark that's named after a used car lot. It's a pitch away from a small diner and a coin laundry.

Clearwater's Bright House Field and Dunedin's Florida Auto Exchange Stadium don't seem to have much in common except for this — this weekend, for both, marks the start of a whirlwind.

The Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays will host their spring training openers this weekend, marking the start of a new baseball season.

The Phillies play in Tampa today before their home opener Sunday against the Yankees. Seats are sold out this weekend, although the team always sells 500 tickets for the stadium's grassy outfield berm on game day. The Phillies expect to sell out more than a dozen of this spring's 16 home games.

"It's still a little early before the huge influx of visitors we get for the games," said John Timberlake, the team's Florida director. "By the time you get to St. Patrick's Day, it's all sold out."

The Blue Jays' home opener is today against the Detroit Tigers. Tickets have yet to sell out.

The teams' home spring training games all start at 1:05 p.m.

Tale of two stadiums

The Phillies have trained in Clearwater since the late 1940s, making the team's relationship with its spring home one of the longest-running in baseball. Players spent decades at Little Green Field and Jack Russell Stadium before Bright House Field opened in 2004.

The Phillies are in the eighth year of a 20-year contract with Clearwater. Their ballpark off U.S. 19 is a state-of-art showcase of modern baseball. Its entranceway opens onto a large fountain. Inside are 7,000 stadium seats, picnic areas and a playground.

Beers such as Yuengling, a Philly favorite, flow from the popular tiki bar terrace. Ringing the outfield is a wide, grassy berm, where fans not moved by the game have been known to take a nap.

The $25 million stadium bears little resemblance to the spring home of the Blue Jays.

The Dunedin ballpark is regarded as one of spring training's quaintest, nestled into a quiet neighborhood of bungalows and rental homes. Home runs land in the grass outside Curtis Fundamental Elementary School, and the field is a fly ball away from a public library and a senior center.

Across the street sits Iris's Grill, a diner with a weekly all-you-can-eat fish fry and a sign advertising "Snowbird Feed."

The Blue Jays have called this place home since 1977, when the franchise was founded. In those days, it was called Grant Field, named after a former mayor who deeded the land to Dunedin in the 1930s. Over the decades, it has gone by the names Knology Park and Dunedin Stadium.

Last year it was renamed the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, after a used car lot on Dunedin's Main Street. The name hangs on banners circling the open-air field.

Far-traveling fans

The upcoming weeks of training games will serve to intermingle Pinellas County residents with snowbirds, tourists and out-of-town baseball fans traveling from afar.

The annual influx of Blue Jays fans into Dunedin — traveling from Canada to far south of the Deep South, all to watch their favorite team practice — is an impressive migration that local businesses prepare for in advance.

And some far-traveling Phillies fans showed up at Bright House Field on Thursday to watch their team beat the Florida State Seminoles, 8-0.

For the past two years, Patricia Quigley and her husband, Mark, have headed south to Clearwater from Hammonton, N.J., a small town off the Atlantic City Expressway. They camp out at their son's home in Holiday. This year, they plan to stay through April, catching as many spring training games as they can.

On Thursday, the devoted Quigleys watched the Phillies game from the last row, just left of home plate.

Patricia, 62, wore a red Carlos Ruiz jersey with the catcher's nickname, "Chooch," on the back. She said the baseball games and the Florida spring warmth give her "the best of both worlds."

But not everything was perfect, she admitted. She looked down at her Philly cheesesteak, bought from a concession stand, and laughed.

"It's not the same," she said.

Times staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report. Contact Drew Harwell at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

. If you go

Phillies tickets

Prices: Club level, $34; premium box, $29; field box, $26; baseline, $26; picnic tiki terrace, $23; outfield berm/standing, $13.

To order: Go online to philliesspringtraining.com or call (727) 442-8496.

Blue Jays tickets

Prices: Box seats, $20; reserved section, $18; baseline, $15. (All tickets are $5 to $7 higher for five premium games.)

To order: Go online to toronto.bluejays.mlb.com or call (727) 733-0429.

Phillies home games

(All games at 1:05 p.m.)

Sunday: New York Yankees

Tuesday: Detroit Tigers

Wednesday: Baltimore Orioles

March 5: Pittsburgh Pirates

March 6: Tampa Bay Rays

March 8: Orioles

March 10: Yankees

March 12: Rays

March 17: Toronto Blue Jays

March 18: Pirates

March 20: Yankees

March 21: Boston Red Sox

March 24: Minnesota Twins

March 25: Atlanta Braves

March 26: Blue Jays

March 28: Houston Astros

Blue Jays home games

(All games at 1:05 p.m.)

Today: Detroit Tigers

Monday: Philadelphia Phillies

Wednesday: Tampa Bay Rays

Thursday: Pittsburgh Pirates

March 5: Tigers

March 11: New York Yankees

March 12: Pirates

March 13: Rays

March 15: Phillies

March 18: Yankees

March 20: Minnesota Twins

March 22: Phillies

March 24: Atlanta Braves

March 27: Baltimore Orioles

March 28: Boston Red Sox

Clearwater, Dunedin spring training fields offer study in contrasts 02/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 25, 2011 8:06pm]

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