When you replace a classic Florida State League ballpark, your new home had better be damned impressive. Ballparks fans shed a tear when the Phillies decided to replace Jack Russell Stadium with a new ballpark, but the replacement — Bright House Networks Field — is such a great facility, you’ll find yourself rarely yearning for the old ballpark.
Year Opened: 2004
Capacity: 7,897 (includes 1,000 berm seating)
Dimensions: 329L, 381LC, 408C, 330L
League: Florida State League
Affiliation: Philadelphia Phillies
Parking: $2 parking in adjoining parking lot
Directions: 601 N. Old Coachman Rd., Clearwater. Old Coachman Road runs parallel to Hwy. 19 through Clearwater. Take Hwy. 19 to Drew Street and then go west. The ballpark will be to your right.
Ballparks like Bright House Networks Field are always a little problematic. On the one hand, with the growing popularity of spring training, teams are wanting ever-larger ballparks to generate some serious dollars in March. But many of these ballparks must be used by Florida State League affiliates the rest of the season, and there’s nothing more depressing than a crowd of 500 cast afloat in a 10,000-seat ballpark — just ask the fans of the Tampa Yankees.
But HOK and Ewing Cole did a masterful job in designing Bright House Networks Field to fill the needs of both. After attending spring-training and regular-season games at Bright House Networks Field, it’s clear that the throngs of Phillies fans have a great time basking under the Florida sun here, while the Class A Threshers fans are also well served by a ballpark that’s not too overwhelming on a hot August night.
The ballpark design should be familiar to anyone visiting a minor-league park constructed in the last five years. A concourse rings the seating bowl, the playing field and the outfield grass seating. Concessions are in back of the concourse so fans can watch the action while making a beer run. A second deck includes a press box, luxury boxes and a group picnic area. We can all agree that the basic layout is really nothing special.
The devil is always in the details, and attention to detail is where HOK and Ewing Cole earned their fees. In a smart move, a popular feature at Jack Russell Stadium was retained: the legendary Tiki Bar. Located right down the left-field line, the Tiki Bar is bigger and better than ever, seating 250 for spring-training games and serving as a popular gathering place during the regular season. It’s the perfect place to sip a cold margarita during the game.
But the Tiki Bar doesn’t provide the only great view of the field. A grassy outfield seating area should be mandatory for any spring-training field, and Bright House Networks Field doesn’t disappoint: the area stretches across the entire outfield (except for the bullpens), putting fans close to the action and to players in the bullpen. Grass seating is extremely popular with families, and the other family-specific features in Bright House Networks Field are located adjacent to the outfield seating, in the left-field corner. A large playground area will tire out the kids, while a special kid-sized concession stand offers kid-friendly treats, such as ice cream and candy.
Traffic moves through the ballpark very well. There are two entrances to the park across from first base and third base. The concourses are exceptionally wide, leaving lots of room for folks making their way to a concession stand for a Philly cheesesteak. A spacious gift shop is located on the concourse as well. Almost all of the seats in the ballpark are theater-style seating, except for the reserved picnic tables located adjacent to the Tiki Bar . As you can see in the photo, the sections down each line are angled toward the pitchers’ mound.
Whereas Jack Russell was located in the midst of a residential neighborhood, Bright House Networks Field is located in an open recreation area next to busy Hwy. 19, which runs north-south through Clearwater. There’s plenty of shopping and restaurants close to the ballpark, and the buzz of the highway is always present at the ballpark. The location also made sense for another important reason: it was built next to the Phillies’ permanent workout facility, allowing the team to centralize all its spring and minor-league facilities on one campus.
The ballpark is done up in a Florida Spanish Mediterranean style with a terra-cotta exterior and tiles decorated with current and historic Phillies logos. Again, the attention to detail distinguishes the design; seemingly every new Publix is done up in Spanish Mediterranean, but the addition of the decorative tiles sets the park apart.
Bright House Networks Field was designed to fill the needs of the Philadelphia Phillies and the Clearwater Threshers without diminishing either.
Concessions are plentiful, but not necessarily intrusive. Most are located in back of the concourse, as well as in each corner.
Three concession stands are worth noting. Right in back of home plate is a concession stand featuring Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, with buns flown in from Philadelphia’s Amorosa bakery. Down the left-field line is a special kids’ concession stand with children-friendly offerings. Midway down the left-field line is a beer stand that offers one of the most extensive selection of beers found in any ballpark. Want a good Philly beer with some Florida roots as well? Try a Yuengling. You can also find a wide selection at the Beers of the World booth