Day 3: Visiting Phillies and Yankees Spring Camps
Day three of my exclusive Legends on Deck Grapefruit League Spring Training tour, I decided to stay local to my second home in Clearwater, the long time home of the Phillies Camp, and Single-A Clearwater Threshers. If you get to the park early or late, I highly recommend eating at Lenny’s Diner around the corner. (I’m still waiting for Lenny’s to be featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, it’s that good, so Guy if you read this, head down to Clearwater).
The Carpenter Complex is by far one of the most beautiful Spring Training facilities in all of Florida. Located right off Route 19 and Drew St, it is an easy commute from any direction. Parking is free and conveniently located right next to the Carpenter Complex on Old Coachman Road. Legends on Deck founder David Conde, who did an exclusive story on the best head grounds keeper around, Tommy Tamaska, accompanied me today at the camp. Mr. Tamaska is the man behind the beauty you’ll see at the complex.
Once you make it to the gates, there is a concession stand offering great food at reasonable prices and a souvenir trailer, were you can pick up a free roster of all attendees and purchase your favorite Phillies gear. There are four fields each named after Phillies Alumni, greener than green, complemented by the reddish-brown infield dirt that is prepped constantly by the grounds crew. There aren’t any long walks to see your favorite players in action, because you are right in the mix of it all. The complex is extremely fan friendly, offering fans the opportunity to interact with players and have autograph possibilities, especially as they move between the Richard Ashburn and Steven Carlton Fields.
With a quick 20 minute commute across Rt 60, the Courtney Campbell Causeway, Dave and I arrived at the George M Steinbrenner Complex, home of the New York Yankees. I have attended this camp on numerous occasions since 2009 with my boys, who have gotten lucky with autographs, but the experience is a fiasco and if it’s hot, the experience gets old real quick. After the new stadium was built, I was extremely disappointed on the ridiculousness of the ticket prices for fans and their families, as they turned front row seating into cooperate boxes.
The camp provides a similar venue to what you would see and experience in the Bronx. Parking is free, however everything else you’ll be paying for, including a roster list. There are concessions stands open similar to what you see at Yankee Stadium, including adult beverages, however you are paying the standard “Yankee prices.”
I recommend feeding the kids before or after you set foot in the complex. There is an ATM on the premises, with a high surcharge. There are two souvenir spots, one outside the main gate and one inside the stadium as you walk in. You could probably get better deals online, but if you need it right away, the merchandise is kind of pricey.
In all of the other organized camps, there is a general idea as to what time the gates open and most of the security staffs have a program and daily schedule….. Not at the Yankees Camp, because today the gates opened at 11, and there were fans lined up starting at 9 am. Once you get in and after a bag search, no one has any idea on which end is up or down. Fans funnel to the first base and right field side but I have rarely seen players sign autographs there. The warm ups take place in the main stadium, and there is a field to the left and to the right were the players split up. It’s a guessing game as to where the players are going to end up and at which field.
Once practice starts the chances of getting autographs is slim. Especially the veteran players, who don’t sign much at all. If you notice players warming up in left field, head over when they are done, because you may get lucky and get a few signatures. The field to the left of the stadium, where most of the pitching squads work out is far away from the fans. I witnessed people asking how to get to the other end of the fields, until they realized there wasn’t a way to get any closer.
Now occasionally players, alumni, and coaching staff will sign at the conclusion of practice. At the field to the left of the stadium, there are opportunities but it gets crowded very quickly. Compared to the other camps, the Yankees camp is NOT fan friendly. There is absolutely no interaction with the players like other camps, every encounter is through a fence they call “autograph alley” or the stadium barriers. If your lucky enough to have a player stop and sign, he’ll probably only do a couple and proceed on, but seems best that if your not there in the front row waiting for a signature, you are more than likely not going to get one.
Please note this is not a knock on the players, they have a job to do, but the Yankees organization needs to do a better job granting access for the fans so that they can make their Spring Training experience a memorable one.
If you plan on attending a Yankees cap, go there just to experience the atmosphere, watch practice and see some of the old timers that show up occasionally, then you’ll have fun… If you are going to expect autographs, just seems fair not to get your hopes up. Keep your wallet in your pocket, as you’ll easily blow your weeks pay check getting caught up in the “Yankee experience.”
Next Up: Day 4 – Pirates and Orioles
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Thoughts From David C.
I accompanied Gabe to the Phillies and Yankees camps on Sunday and I have to admit that he is right on with this post. I have experienced a few camps myself and I was a bit disgusted with how the Yankees camp was handled. The Phillies camp was a great experience and one that will see me attending again, but I was talking with a fan at the Yankees Camp and he felt it was best suited for the fan that just wanted to watch but not interact with the players.
When fans come south, mostly on vacation, they want to experience that calm atmosphere that Spring Training is known for. Where you can chat with a ball player for maybe a moment, but that memory will last a life time. When the teams are back home, it’s rare that a player has much time between getting ready for the games and leaving the park, that they have enough time to connect with their fans. So Spring Training is supposed to offer at least a glimpse of that connection.
The Yankees do run their organization as a tight ship and I can see that they barely go away from that. I was fortunate enough to have a friend in camp, which made my experience a bit easier to deal with, but it isn’t a camp where I feel my two sons will have a great experience interacting with the players.