Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Spring training fans abound with optimism

The ballpark smelled of sauteed onions, suntan lotion and unfettered optimism.

It was minutes before the opening of the Philadelphia Phillies' 67th spring training season in Clearwater, and fans were streaming through the arches at Bright House Field. Their jerseys — gray, green, maroon, baby blue, pin-stripe, apple red and faded red — were clean and pressed. Their score cards were crisp, not yet blemished with runs scored by the opposition.

No one seemed to mind the gray sky, the sticky afternoon air or the $7 beers.

Talk among the crowd was of healthy pitchers and re-signed sluggers. Even of championships. And why not? Their team, like all the others, was still undefeated.

The scene will be recreated today when the New York Yankees play their first home spring training game at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.

Sophie Williams, who is 2, was perched atop her father's shoulders Saturday. She wore a red Phillies T-shirt and red bows in her hair. Sophie, attending her first spring training game, owns two Phillies jerseys and at least three onesies. She and her parents came from North Carolina for vacation and baseball.

"We're going to watch them in the World Series this year, aren't we?" asked her father, Jason.

Sophie, seeming not to notice, reached for her purple pacifier.

As 1:05 p.m. approached, the Rocky theme song rumbled through the speakers.

The public announcer's voice swelled.

"That music," he said, "can only mean one thing, Philadelphia Phillies."

The team's mascot — a pear-shaped mess of green fur with a horn-like mouth and Big Bird eyes — zipped by home plate on an Honda ATV. The Phillie Phanatic, as it is known, did its best Rocky impression as the crowd cheered.

On row 15 along the third-base line, Shirley Schimpf watched intently with her girlfriends, Mary Thompson and Kathy Borneman. They're all from just outside Philadelphia.

Schimpf, who is 66, recently had her baseball cap signed by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. She knows every player and most of their backgrounds. She gets regular emails about the team and text messages with game updates. "I'm the groupie," she said, grinning.

The women have been fans since birth. They know the game and its intricacies as well as any of the men in their families. They used to take their dads to games every Father's Day.

"If you're from Philly," Schimpf said, "you don't root for anybody but a Philly team."

Chimpf is devoted, but on Saturday she didn't take things too seriously.

The game, technically, was a competition, but only in the loosest sense. The Phillies fans didn't once boo the other team (or their own, as they've been known to do). A win, they figured, would foreshadow future success. A loss would be sloughed off as no big deal.

The league, after all, is named for a grapefruit.

On the grass beyond the outfield fence, families sprawled out across beach towels and shared buckets of popcorn. A woman lounged beneath a smiley face umbrella. Between pouches of Capri Sun, children slipped on miniature gloves that looked just big enough to catch golf balls.

As the game entered the fourth inning, the Phillies led the Houston Astros 2-1.

Sitting cross-legged on a blanket, two boys — one wearing a green Phillies hat with a number 6 jersey and the other wearing a red Phillies hat with a number 26 jersey — wrestled and laughed.

Then, a hit. The boy in the green hat heard the pop. He knew it meant something bad.

"What's the score?" he asked his dad. "What's the score?"

The Phillies were a run behind.

He frowned and slumped onto the blanket. He looked at the scoreboard, then back at the field, then again to his dad. His world had stopped.

Moments later, the boy in the red hat noticed something in the grass. He motioned the other boy over. They stared into the green.

A bug.

The chase was on.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected]

Spring training fans abound with optimism 02/23/13 [Last modified: Sunday, February 24, 2013 12:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Astros rout Yankees to force Game 7 of AL Championship Series


    HOUSTON — Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings to outduel Luis Severino for the second time, and the Astros bats came alive in their return home as Houston routed the Yankees 7-1 Friday night and forced a decisive Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

    The Astros’ Brian McCann, who has struggled during the ALCS, breaks a scoreless tie with an RBI double during the fifth inning off Yankees starter Luis Severino.
  2. Review: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw shower love, star power on Tampa's Amalie Arena


    Near the end of their potent new duet Break First, Tim McGraw stopped singing, and let Faith Hill's powerhouse voice take over.

    Faith Hill and Tim McGraw performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Oct. 20, 2017.
  3. Senate to take up AUMF debate as Trump defends reaction to Niger attack


    WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is taking up a long-awaited debate about authorizing military force against the Islamic State as President Trump comes under unprecedented public scrutiny for his treatment of dead soldiers' families, following an ambush on troops helping to fight Islamic …

  4. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath


    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

    More than 50 people gathered and walked in the Southeast Seminole Heights community Friday to pay respects to the victims of three shootings. The crowd took a moment of silence at the corner of 11th Street and East New Orleans where Monica Hoffa was found dead. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  5. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.