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Strikeouts likely at ticket booths

The Zilli brothers of Toronto found out Thursday afternoon what a lot of other spring training baseball fans could discover this weekend: Getting a ticket is tough.

In the Zillis' case, make that impossible.

"Watch a ball game? Not likely," quipped Al Zilli, 31, as he and his brother, Tony, stood empty-handed outside the Toronto Blue Jays' ticket office at Dunedin Stadium at Grant Field.

The Zillis wanted a pair of tickets for today's opener against the Baltimore Orioles, but the game is sold out.

"Nothing unusual," Al Zilli said. "You can't get a ticket in Toronto, either."

That's to be expected for the Blue Jays. They are, after all, back-to-back World Series champs.

But the three other teams that train in Pinellas County report their ticket sales are up, too, as they head into the opening weekend of Grapefruit League competition:

At the Philadelphia Phillies offices in Clearwater, the National League champions have sold out three games already, said Eddie Ferenz, who is in charge of the Phillies ticket operations. Those three _ rematches with the Blue Jays _ join about six or seven other games that are on the verge of selling out, including a rare visit from the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 18.

Ferenz said he expects as many as 10 sellouts this year.

At Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, ticket sales for the Baltimore Orioles and the St. Louis Cardinals are ahead of last year's pace, said Josie Arnold, ticket systems director for the Cardinals. Some tickets remain for all games except the Saturday match-up between the two squads, which has only bleacher seats available that go on sale at 11 a.m. on game day.

Arnold said she thinks sales are up because both teams now take credit card orders over the telephone.

It is the annual renewal of Pinellas County's encounter with the boys of summer, even if Thursday's workouts took place in a cold, howling wind that made even Northern visitors bundle up.

The monthlong spring training season starts locally today at 1:05 p.m. in Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, with the Phillies hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates. Thirty minutes later, the Blue Jays begin their quest for a third world championship with a game against the Baltimore Orioles.

The Cardinals play on the road, in Fort Myers against the Minnesota Twins.

The highlight of the opening weekend comes Saturday, when the Blue Jays and Phillies start a back-to-back World Series rematch set.

On Thursday, Phillies fan Charles Quigley got to the ticket window for Saturday's game to find only three tickets remaining, and they were for bleacher seats with a view obstructed by a large metal light pole. He bought two of them.

"I thought he said he had two tickets for $6. I asked how much the other ones were," Quigley said. "He said that's all there is."

Paul Pelland, the Toronto ticket manager, said sales at Grant Field are ahead of even last year's blistering pace. After today's opener, all but one of the remaining 12 home games have only obstructed view bleacher seats, he said. The March 28 game against the Orioles has some bleacher seats that are not obstructed.

But Blue Jays ticket fever is so rabid this year that Pelland expects to dip even into the "severely obstructed" bleacher seats, about 18 tickets behind the massive light pole. And just how much of the field can you see from those seats?

"The pole," Pelland answered.

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