Article and all photos by Joe Mock, BaseballParks.com
All rights reserved
When the Phillies moved into Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia at the beginning of the 2004 season, it wasn’t the first new ballpark the team had to break in that year. That’s because their new exhibition-game stadium in Clearwater, FL had already seen its first games in March, marking the first time (according to the Phillies) a Major League team has moved into new parks both in the spring and for the regular season.
But unlike a number of other spring-time ballparks, Bright House Network Field receives regular use throughout the summer. That’s because once the big Phillies go north at the end of spring training, the team’s Florida State League team uses the new facility throughout the regular season. That team changed its name as it moved into the park, and what were once the Clearwater Phillies became the Clearwater Threshers.
If you’ve read my review of Citizens Bank Park, then you know that the Phillies’ new regular-season facility is a very, very special place. But how special is the new ballpark in Clearwater? Read on to find out.
The park that Bright House Networks (BHN) Field has replaced is venerable Jack Russell Memorial Stadium, used by the Phillies for spring exhibition games since 1955 and by the Florida State League (continuously) since 1985. Let’s get two things out of the way right now: First, I loved Jack Russell with its rounded seating bowl and organist in the stands. I’ll miss it. Second, it needed to be replaced, especially for the big club’s exhibition games. The newer spring-training parks had lapped poor Jack Russell with luxury boxes, special indoor batting cages, fancy video boards, etc., etc.
|First game: March 4, 2004|
|Capacity: 6,897 fixed seats, about 1,000 more are permitted for General Admission|
|Cost: $25 million|
|Home dugout: 3B side|
|Field points: Northeast|
|Playing surface: grass|
|Betcha didn’t know: Park was built on the site of an old Home Depot store|
The new park has another advantage over Jack Russell: it is located directly adjacent to the Phillies’ spring-training complex in Clearwater. The old park was four miles to the west of the complex in a residential area that presented the Phils with loads of logistical problems in transporting their players from the complex to exhibition games.
Make no mistake about it, BHN Field is located in an exceedingly congested area of Clearwater, very close to the intersection of the heavily used U.S. 19 and Drew Street. Making matters worse, Route 19 is in a perpetual state of “improvement,” making this area quite a construction-zone mess. In case you’re wondering, the park — and the spring-training complex — is on the northwest corner of this intersection.
If you’re attending a Phillies’ exhibition and you’re coming from Tampa or St. Pete, you’ll find the new park easier to get to, because it’s located on the eastern end of Clearwater, nearer these two larger cities. Of course, there are plenty of other baseball facilities close by, and if you visit in March, you’ll find action in every direction: the Blue Jays in Dunedin to the west by six miles; across the Bay in Tampa (a 16-mile drive) you’ll find Legends Field, spring home of the Yankees, which is across the street from Raymond James (NFL) Stadium; and due south by 17 miles in the heart of St. Pete (almost right next to a marina) is the Devil Rays’ spring home. The Rays’ park, which is only ten blocks from their regular-season home, is the lovely facility once known as Al Lang Field, but that now goes by the corporate moniker of Progress Energy Park. And from Clearwater, you’re really not that far from spring baseball in Sarasota or Bradenton, which are south across the Bay.
By the way, the exact location for BHN Field is the former site of a Home Depot, which opened a new store in Clearwater. That provided some already-paved parking for the project near the gate that faces south, but much more is needed in March, and additional lots are near the main gates on the west end of the park.
BHN Field and Jack Russell Stadium couldn’t be more dissimilar, and this is especially true of their exteriors. The old park didn’t possess nearly the towering presence of the new facility. Truly, BHN Field is quite imposing — and at the same time attractive. The photo at the top of this page shows the southern entrance to the ballpark, which brings you into the park behind first base.
The much more impressive entryway is behind third base, shown below. Here you’ll find a plaza with a fountain, the main ticket windows and the exterior entrance to the souvenir shop.
Notice the beautiful towers, reminiscent of some of the bell towers around Florida — all done with a touch of Spanish architecture. The contrasting colors in the walls, brick accents and tile roofs are also very attractive.
The Phillies’ impressive new stadium in Philadelphia was designed by an architectural team including Ewing Cole and HOK, with the former having the lead role. In Clearwater, the roles of these two architectural firms were reversed, as HOK spearheaded the effort in Florida. Hunt Construction Group, the dominant player in sports-facility construction, was the general contractor for both stadiums.
Does BHN Field look like a typical HOK ballpark? Not really, as I think the photos of the exterior indicate. On the inside, there were many nice touches — some typical in HOK parks and some not.
For instance, the interior color scheme is certainly novel, attractively so. While all of the seats are the same dark blue that you see in a lot of facilities, the exposed steel and the trim work are painted a dark red — almost the Phillies’ shade of red. These colors along with the natural stucco look of the walls makes for a pleasing color scheme.
The arrangement of the bullpens is right out of another successful HOK project, Baltimore’s Camden Yards. That’s because the two ‘pens are “stacked” just beyond the left-field wall.
I love parks with a “360 degree concourse” that allows you to take a stroll all the way around the field, taking in different vantage points of the park and the action on the field. BHN Field delivers in this area beautifully, so please take the time to take such a stroll. And by the way, when you’re behind the bullpens in left field, make note of the interesting directional sign (see above), which provides a light-hearted look at the distances to each of the Phillies’ minor-league affiliates.
Does BHN Field provide the creature comforts that fans expect in new parks these days? While the answer isn’t a resounding yes, there are many areas in which the park delivers the goods very well.
Parking can be found in two lots, one near the first-base entrance (it used to be the parking lot for Home Depot) and the other not far from the main entry behind third. The cost is $2 per car during the Florida State League season, and $5 for spring exhibition games. While tickets for the spring games are naturally more expensive than for the minor-league contests, the prices for the latter are extremely reasonable, including a scant $2 for general admission!
If you sit in the main seating bowl, as opposed to the grassy berms in left field and right field, note that the closer you are to the field, the less air circulation you’ll encounter. It can get balmy in Clearwater, you know.
The food offerings at BHN Field are good, but not spectacular. There is a “food court” behind home plate that provides a number of choices, but nothing that is really out of the ordinary or has a local emphasis (something that I look for in a park). Food prices, as you would expect, are higher for the spring games.
The best “concession” area in the ballpark doesn’t serve food at all! Frenchy’s Tiki Pavilion (photo below on the left) in left field is a fun departure from normal ballpark life, where you can sit at a bar and sip mixed drinks — and keep track of the game, if that’s important to you. I found the energy level here to be the best of anywhere in the park.
The plans for BHN Field were well thought out where kids are concerned. There is an extensive, brightly colored playground down the third-base foul line, and a kid-themed concession called “Shortstop Snacks” nearby.
The scoreboard is more than adequate, as it features a 20-foot-side color video screen over a standard black-and-white message board.
One thing that’s missing, sadly, is an organist. At Jack Russell, there was an organ actually in the seating bowl, and it was played before games. These are slowly but surely being phased out of baseball, in favor of blaring hip-hop music being played over the PA system. That’s really a shame.
Make sure you also visit the Diamond Outfitters souvenir shop. The merchandise is beautifully displayed, and there is a nice assortment of both Phillies and Threshers items.
Bright House Networks Field brings the Phillies and their Clearwater minor league affiliate into the modern age. Jack Russell served its purpose very well for several decades, but the new facility provides fans a spacious, modern park with great sight-lines and a walk-around concourse to check out the action from all angles. While not eclipsing the beautiful spring parks in, say, Surprise, Scottsdale, Orlando or Jupiter, it is a beautiful new addition to the spring scene in the Sunshine State, and is as nice as any park in the Florida State League.