As spring training opens in Clearwater and Dunedin, it looks like a beautiful weekend for baseball.
The players will be getting their bats and gloves ready. The fans will be packing sunscreen. And in the stadium kitchens, the cooks will be slaving over their veggie wraps and their chicken cheesesteaks and their vanilla-glazed sweet potato fries.
That's right, stadium fare goes far beyond peanuts and hot dogs these days. Whatever your taste, it's worth bringing an appetite when spring ball kicks off today at Bright House Field in Clearwater and Sunday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin.
The Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays expect to draw good crowds over the next month — their usual mix of locals, vacationers and serious fans from up North who travel to see their teams train.
Both franchises are in the middle of stable, long-term contracts with their respective host cities.
The Blue Jays aren't just debuting six new players for spring training. They're also debuting a new logo and a health food station on their Dunedin stadium's first-base side. It will serve fruit and veggie platters, veggie burgers and fish sandwiches.
"It's something a more health-conscious person can get," said general manager Shelby Nelson.
But don't worry! The usual hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, popcorn, pretzels and other favorites are still available, along with plenty of that Canadian favorite, Labatt Blue beer.
Fans will also feel a Canadian presence as the Blue Jays unveil a new red maple leaf on their batting practice caps.
All Major League Baseball teams received new caps this year. But Toronto's caps are singular because they feature the primary Blue Jays logo on the back, making it the only team with a double image, said team spokesman Patrick Kurish.
The change generated so much excitement, officials said, that they opened the stadium gift shop early — on Feb. 5 — so fans could stock up on merchandise bearing the new graphic and the names or images of pitchers R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, outfielders Emilio Bonifacio and Melky Cabrera, and infielder Jose Reyes.
For the first time, the Blue Jays' mascot, Ace, will accompany players at all their spring home games.
In Clearwater, the Phillies have stamped their logo on a new 21,000-square-foot training building at the Carpenter Complex, where the Phillies train next door to Bright House Field.
The recently finished $2.9 million building alongside U.S. 19 has six air-conditioned batting tunnels so stars like Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins won't have their batting practices rained out. There's a large gym for players, a video room, and offices for trainers and coaches.
"For us, this building is the last piece that completes the whole Carpenter Complex," said John Timberlake, the Phillies' director of Florida operations.
On Friday, the team unveiled its new menu for Bright House Field, expanding on the ballpark's mix of Philly favorites and Florida flavors.
New this year: the arrival of Tony Luke's, a South Philly cheesesteak chain that's the top seller at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies' home stadium up North.
Their fare joins other new arrivals such as chicken cheesesteaks, bratwurst, Italian paninis and strawberry shortcake. There are also knishes, Cuban sandwiches and chocolate bananas.
Make no mistake, though: the Phillies' biggest sellers are still cheesesteaks and beer.
"We have 120 kinds of beer," said Bruce Leith, the Phillies' concessions manager, "everything from a nutty pecan to your favorite domestic."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.