CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies have played Grapefruit League games at Bright House Field since 2004, but Clearwater has been their Spring Training home for 70 years.
They helped the city commemorate its long Spring Training traditions Saturday, when the city unveiled a Florida Heritage Site marker at the former site of Clearwater Athletic Field. The field had been the Spring Training home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Phillies and other professional baseball teams from 1923-56.
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"When you reflect on the history of the sport in Clearwater, we've been here forever -- 70 years," Phillies chairman David Montgomery said. "Babe Ruth came here in his last year in '48. Robin Roberts was so impressed to have him here at Athletic Field he … made a fellow grab a ball and had Babe Ruth sign it for his mother. So this represents not just Phillies history, but baseball history."
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Fire destroyed the field's grandstands in 1956, although by that time the Phillies had moved to Jack Russell Stadium two blocks away. The Phillies played Spring Training games at Jack Russell from 1955 to 2003.
But the Phillies still had rookies practice at Athletic Field once Jack Russell opened. Those players nicknamed it "Iwo Jima" because of its rock-covered field.
"We had an old wooden clubhouse with about three or four nails on it for your clothes and that was about it," former Phillies pitcher and manager Dallas Green said. "The infield was a little rough. Guys were getting bad hops left and right."
The North Greenwood Recreation and Aquatic Complex now stands on the site of Athletic Field, but now at least folks who walk past will know the spot has some baseball significance, too.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.