Bright House Field is in a class by itself among Grapefruit League ballparks.
When it opened in 2004, the $30 million spring training home of the Phillies blazed both a new and worn path among like facilities. That’s because the Grapefruit League hadn’t seen anything quite like it, although the Cactus League certainly had.
Bright House Field broke the standard issue design in the Grapefruit League by adopting two concepts that had proved popular in the Cactus League: an open concourse that encircles the playing field and a berm that spans the outfield. Prior to Clearwater, no other Florida city had a ballpark with either fan-friendly feature. Yet in Arizona, only Hi Corbett Field (est. 1937) had neither.
Before Bright House Field came along, all main concourses in the Grapefruit League were behind the grandstand, meaning concession stands and other places fans mingle had no view of the playing field. But borrowing on a trend that started in the Major Leagues and spread to the Cactus League, the concourse in Clearwater was placed above the seating bowl. Because of this design, fans can (and do) stand behind the last row of seats to enjoy unobstructed views of the playing field. And since the concourse extends completely around the field, vantage points are numerous.
Although berms weren’t new in the Grapefruit League they had previously been confined to either left or right field, or down either one of those outfield lines. At Bright House Field the berm stretches from left-center to near the right field foul pole, impeded only by the hitter’s backdrop, and is spacious enough to hold 1,500 fans.
Fixed seats account for 82.3% of the ballpark’s official capacity of 8,500. All 7,000 of them are painted blue and those in the grandstand down the outfield lines are angled towards the playing field. Bright House Field has an unsymmetrical upper level that contains padded club seats and nine suites. The bulk of the second story structure extends above the first base concourse and is dedicated for the premium seating, while the smaller portion that stretches between home plate and third base houses the press box. The upper level slightly overhangs eight sections (105-112) of the main grandstand, which enables the well-heeled fans above to be closer to the playing field.
While the upper level is restricted access - only credentialed members of the media or suite and club seat holders can ascend via stairs or elevator – the ballpark is renowned for its all inclusiveness on the concourse level. Whether 21 & up or a few years old, there’s something for everyone on it, with most of that something being on the home (third base) side of the park.
Kids have their own “zone” in the corner of the left field concourse, where a playground, games and special concession stand, called Shortstop Snacks, reside. The berm is an affordable and popular place for the whole family to gather on an oversized blanket. But the demographic profile of the fan base at Bright House Field is decidedly younger than its Grapefruit League brethren, chiefly because the ballpark in Clearwater has become a cool place to hang out.
Undoubtedly, the signature feature at Bright House Field is the 50-foot long tiki bar that beckons fans to left field. Officially dubbed the Frenchy's Tiki Pavilion, it’s a full service bar with enough room to seat 75 fans and has an additional five tiers of barstool seating descending between it and the outfield wall that can accommodate approximately 175. Prior to 2009, the tiki’s terrace was available on a first-come, first-serve basis, but it now requires a ticket. The nearby three sections of tiered picnic table terrace seating have always required the purchase of a ticket from the box office.
Before or after the game, the tiki bar is the place to be. Its seats start filling up shortly after the ballpark’s gates open – 2½ hours before first pitch – and the party continues there well after the game, when live music frequently accompanies the free flow of alcohol that is consumed until closing time, which varies as the bar stays open until the crowd starts to dwindle. That’s generally between 1-2 hours after the last out, with the good times rolling the longest on the weekends.
For fans who think beer and baseball go hand in hand, the Beers of the World stand on the third base concourse is a dream come true. Its name is no misnomer and the selection of bottled beer runs the alphabetical gamut from Abita Purple Haze to Yuengling Porter with imported beers making up much of the 70 bottle selection in between.
Yuengling is found on tap throughout the stadium but another Philadelphia favorite, the cheesesteak, is limited to one stand behind home plate, where they are served by La Spada's & Delco's, a local "original steaks & hoagies" restaurant that also has a location in Pennsylvania.
Hooters, a restaurant that began in Clearwater in 1983, provides a pair of ball girls and wait staff for the VIP Diamond Dugout, a field level area next to the Phillies dugout that also includes the perk of unlimited ballpark fare. The Hooters Girls assigned to stadium duty are dressed in their regular (and eye-catching) uniform.
The original Hooters is just 1.53 miles from Bright House Field, a distance listed on one of two wooden directional signs erected in the mulch behind the outfield concourse. The sign in right field lists a half dozen popular local restaurants with the name and mileage to each written on a separate wooden plank pointing in the appropriate direction. The arrows on the directional sign in left field point to Philadelphia (1,107 miles) and the Phillies' minor league affiliates. The only affiliate not listed is the Clearwater Threshers, who take over the stadium once the Phillies head north.
Among the notable distances at Bright House Field are the outfield dimensions, which mimic those at Citizens Bank Park, and the 346 Ft. sign on the chain link fence behind the concourse in right field. The fence forms the outer perimeter of the stadium and a ball hit 347 feet to right will end up in the retention lake that is behind it.
The Carpenter Complex is just 200 yards behind the chain link fence in left field. That complex has been used by the Phillies’ minor leaguers during spring training since 1967 and one of its five fields hosts games for the Phils’ Gulf Coast League team during the summer.
Fans standing on the left field concourse have a bird’s eye view of the minor league complex behind them or the bullpens below them. Wedged between the tiki bar and berm, the bullpens are stacked on top of each other, with the visitors’ placed directly behind the outfield wall and the Phillies’ elevated directly behind the visiting team ‘pen.
Near the bullpens, an enormous scoreboard rises beyond the berm in left-center field. It includes a large video panel and is topped by a small display that alternates between the time and temperature. An additional, much smaller scoreboard is attached to the façade of the upper level on the first base side of the park, a placement that ensures fans in the berm can see it.
While fans are free to roam the wide concourse signs posted on it mention that ushers will only allow those with tickets into their respective sections, a policy that goes into enforcement 45 minutes before game time. That’s not the “look the other way” spring training norm at most stadiums, where aisles are usually monitored by happy-go-lucky retirees.
Fans wishing to upgrade their seats do have one, albeit unlikely, alternative as the pair of plush leather recliners found on the concourse behind home plate can be claimed by the winners of the best seat in the house contest. The two fans lucky enough to recline there are under the cover of the upper level. Everyone else sitting behind home plate must beware of a souvenir dropping into their lap as the freestanding backstop allows foul pop-ups to land in the stands.
Unlike most ballparks, Bright House Field lacks an entrance behind home plate. Instead fans enter through one of two gates named after their position on a compass, not their location in the ballpark as is usually the custom. As such, a West Gate is behind third base while a South Gate allows for entrance along the first base concourse.
Both gates have staircases that led up to arched entryways, but the West Gate is the ballpark’s main and by far most used entrance. Outside of it, an extended fountain plaza was built. Centered in the fountain is a sculpture of Steve Carlton. Titled The Ace, it was produced by artist Kevin Brady and shows “Lefty” having just released a pitch.
The exterior is distinctly Floridian in appearance. The Spanish Mediterranean design features towers with tiled roofs and the aforementioned arched entrances cut into a stucco façade. Palms trees are a common sight outside of each entrance.
Both the main ticket office and team shop are adjacent to the West Gate, although smaller versions of each can be found near the South Gate. The main team shop is called Diamond Outfitters and it’s well-stocked for the large crowds that descend upon it.
Large crowds are a byproduct of a good product on the field and a good stadium surrounding it. The Phillies excelled with their on-field performance in 2008 and Bright House Field has been holding up its end of the bargain since 2004.
Until another city in Florida builds a new ballpark and copies its fan-friendly design and amenities, Bright House Field will remain the head of the class in the Grapefruit League. But even if a better ballpark does come along Clearwater’s will likely remain the most fun. And fun, as any Little Leaguer knows, is what baseball is all about.
Location and Parking
Bright House Field is easy to access from US Highway 19 because it was built right next to it. That bustling highway is perhaps the busiest in all of the Tampa Bay area, which means a slow commute coming and going thanks to all the clutter. Chain restaurants, hotels and stores are numerous in the immediate area. In fact, the ballpark shares its South Gate parking lot with a Buffalo Wild Wings, Floor & Decor and LA Fitness. That lot is one of two that are considered "premium." The other is near the West Gate entry. Both charge $10 and fill up fast due to their smallish size.
Most fans park in one of the 1,200 spaces that are available in a grass field at the Joe Dimaggio Sports Complex, which is across and down the street from the ballpark. Another 300 spaces can be found on the same side of the street as Bright House Field at the adjacent Carpenter Complex. Either option costs $10 but the Carpenter Complex is a much closer walk.
On October 16, 2002, the first shovel went into the ground to begin the process of building Bright House Field on 17½ acres of land formerly occupied by a Home Depot.
Designed by a joint combination of HOK Sport and Ewing Cole and built by Hunt Construction Group, the ballpark took 14 months and approximately $30 million to complete.
To offset some of that cost, a naming rights agreement was reached with Bright House Networks, a cable company, on January 20, 2004 to name the 200,000-square-foot facility Bright House Networks Field. As part of the deal, the City of Clearwater received one-third of the $1.7 million that was to be paid out over 10 years. Clearwater also received $7 million from the state of Florida, who along with Pinellas County and the Phillies helped to jointly fund the ballpark.
On March 4, 2004, the Phillies christened Bright House Networks Field by beating the Yankees 5-1 before a crowd of 8,205. Prior to that game, every one that the Phillies had played in Clearwater since 1955 had been held at Jack Russell Stadium, which served as the Phils' winter home after they had trained at Clearwater Athletic Field from 1947 to 1954. The Phillies' spring training association with Clearwater is baseball's second longest. Only the Detroit Tigers have continuously trained in one city longer. The Tigers have trained in Lakeland every year since 1946.
After five spring trainings the ballpark's original name was shortened to Bright House Field before the Phillies reported to camp in 2009. That's the name the ballpark will display through at least the 2013 baseball season, after which Bright House can extend the original agreement by exercising the first of its two 5-year renewal options.
2013 Phillies Spring Training Schedule in Clearwater at Bright House Field