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Nifty & Thrifty

There are plenty of things to do in the Tampa Bay area that are not pocket gougers. Some are fun for the whole family, others are more for the outdoors-type.

If you're down in the dumps because you can't cough up the dough for fun, don't despair.

Even after paying for new school supplies for the kids, you can afford the following five fun things to do for $5 or less. Enjoy.

1. Watch the sun set. It costs absolutely nothing. The sunset is one of our true treasures, and, unfortunately, it's often overlooked by locals. All you really need to do is make the time to enjoy this (almost) daily treat.

An ideal place to watch the sun dip into the horizon is at Pier 60 Park on Clearwater Beach. The best part about this spot is the free nightly entertainment. During the week, you can listen to one or two musicians. Concerts, featuring everything from reggae to swing bands, are every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Pack a cooler with homemade sandwiches and potato salad, fresh fruit and a jug of lemonade. Stuff lawn chairs or a blanket in your car. And bring a couple of bucks to pay for parking. The city-owned parking lot next to the pier charges $1.50 an hour.

To find out what bands are playing on the weekends, check this page or call (727) 562-4800.

2. Think there isn't any land left in Pinellas County? Then a visit to Brooker Creek Preserve _ 8,000 acres of wilderness in northeast Pinellas County _ is in order. The perfect opportunity to explore the area is on Saturday mornings, when a volunteer guide leads a group of people on a free, 2{-hour hike through the preserve.

"They're going to see natural Florida," said volunteer coordinator Jeanne Johnson. "It's hard to believe you're in Pinellas County when you're in the middle of the preserve."

Johnson warns that the preserve is not a park; there are no boardwalks or restroom facilities. And she doesn't recommend the trek for children younger than 10 (unless they're experienced hikers.)

She suggests sturdy shoes, bottled water, sunscreen, a hat, insect repellant and binoculars. And be prepared to get wet, Johnson said. The trails can be soaked this time of year because of the summer rains.

If you're interested in taking the 9 a.m. hike, you must reserve a spot by midday Friday. The maximum number of people is 20. Call (727) 943-4003.

3. When is the last time you ventured to the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs? Stroll down Dodecanese Boulevard and you're in for a treat. And we mean more than baklava.

The Greek community comes to life on this stretch of the Anclote River. Flavorful food, quaint shops and Greek-speaking fishermen are why tourists are drawn to this area, which is known for its sponge-diving industry.

To learn more about this unique business, take a 30-minute cruise on the St. Nicholas VII. The vessel is 7 years old, but looks and operates like an authentic sponge diving boat. The St. Nicholas Boat Line, which dates to 1924, offers tours every 45 minutes, seven days a week

The tour includes a historical narration of the sponge diving industry. Also, guests get to see a sponge diver in action.

"It's not only historical, but educational as well," said owner Angelo Billiris.

The tours cost $5 for adults and $2 for ages 6-13. It's free for childen 5 and younger. The St. Nicholas VII docks where Dodecanese meets Athens Street. Call (727) 942-6425.

4. The Tampa Bay area finally got major league baseball last year when the Devil Rays came to town. But, don't forget, minor league baseball has been here for years. And some folks prefer minor league because of its prices, open-air stadiums and small-town feel.

You can catch a Dunedin Blue Jays or Clearwater Phillies game just about any day of the week. But time's running out. The season ends Sept. 5.

The Blue Jays and Phillies are two of 14 teams in the Florida State League, which began in 1919. Both teams are at the Class A level and serve as an apprenticeship for the major league.

The games provide an opportunity to see some talented baseball players before they head off to the major leagues. But not everyone who comes to the games is a big-time baseball fan. Some just like to have a good time.

"Minor league baseball is great," said Russell Cook, who works in public relations for the Jays. "We really pride ourselves on being quality entertainment."

And affordable, he said. On Saturday, the Jays will celebrate "Dollar Days." Admission is $1 with a discount coupon that can be found at area convenience and grocery stores. A hot dog, beer, soda and popcorn also are $1 apiece.

At Jack Russell Memorial Stadium, Phillies fans compete in on-field basketball and baseball throwing contests while others play music trivia games, said Jason Adams, an account executive for the Phillies.

The Blue Jays' Monday through Saturday games start at 7 p.m. Sunday games begin at 5 p.m. Box seats are $4. General admission prices are $3 for adults and $2 for children and seniors. Parking at Grant Stadium, 375 Douglas Ave., is free. Call 733-9302.

The Phillies' Monday through Saturday games are at 7 p.m. Sunday games begin at 2 p.m. Box seats are $5. General admission tickets are $3. Parking at the stadium, 800 Phillies Drive, is free. Call 442-8496.

This weekend, the Jays will play the Kissimmee Cobras and the Phillies host the Daytona Cubs.

5. At Main Street 5 in Clearwater, you can escape the heat and watch a movie for less than $5. In fact, at a buck a movie, you can watch five a day.

Since the only other discount movie houses in North Pinellas closed earlier this year, Main Street 5 is the only theater that offers "All Shows, All the Time, $1."

The cinema, at 27928 U.S. 19 N, has five screens. It opens at 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. There are daytime, matinee and evening shows Saturday and Sunday.

"Nine times out of 10, we get just about every movie," said assistant manager Randy Shepard.

This week's movies are Muppets in Space, The Matrix, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, The Mummy and Entrapment.

You may want to eat before you go to one of these movies, though. If you add a small coke and small popcorn to the $1 admission, it will put you over $5.

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1 Jeff Seibold of Oldsmar lifts his partner, Holly Harrington, of Tampa as they dance to swing music being performed by Bombed Out Cat at a concert recently at Pier 60 in Clearwater. Live music is just one of the many features at Pier 60 that make it an attractive place to visit.

3 Tarpon Springs sponger and curio shop owner Terry Georgiou cleans 1,200 pieces of grass and yellow sponge back in 1997. In the background, the St. Nicholas VII begins a tour of the area and the sponging industry. People can get a narrative history of the industry while on the tour.

2 A group of nature lovers takes a day trip through the Brooker Creek Preserve. You can reserve your place and take a 2{-hour hike.

4 Several kids ask former Clearwater Phillies player Pat Burrell for an autograph. The Phillies offer ticket prices below $5 and provide minor league entertainment and a chance to see future major leaguers in action.

Pier 60 is one the best-kept and ignored secrets in the Tampa Bay area. You can come out and for free, bear witness to one of nature's more beautiful sights as the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico. It has become a nightly ritual for some to go out and view the sunsets.

5 The Main Street 5 movie theater is the last remaining complex that offers all of its shows for only $1. Assistant manager Randy Shepard said the theater gets most all of the movies that are released.