Clearwater loyalties split for Fall Classic

Loyalties split in Clearwater

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- One step inside Lenny's Restaurant and it's apparent where the local hangout's loyalties lie.

Though the Clearwater restaurant has played host to a fair share of Rays fans, the walls are a constant reminder that the Phillies settled this spot decades ago.

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The walls are painted red, with autographed shirts and bats ranging from current stars such as Ryan Howard to past legends such as Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. A banner proudly boasts, "Winter Home of the Philadelphia Phillies," and the restaurant's general manager Kevin Schauer can rattle off how Chase Utley likes his egg-white omelet quicker than you can say "scrapple and Taylor ham."

For nearly 30 years, Lenny's has been the Phillies' home-cooking away from home, located just a few blocks from the team's Spring Training facility, Bright House Networks Field.

But with the Rays winning the American League pennant on Sunday night, the restaurant that feeds the Phillies and one of their Minor League affiliates, the Clearwater Thrashers, is faced with quite the pickle.

Come Wednesday, their beloved Phillies will face the hometown Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series.

"The Rays were my American League team," Schauer said. "They are a great story in baseball. To get a team that's beating all the other guys in the [AL East] division, it's a David and Goliath story."

Schauer -- sporting both a Rays and Phillies cap -- plans on getting a jersey that shows his split loyalties with both teams insignias stitched up the middle.

But when push comes to shove, Schauer -- who is already expecting a crowd of 180 at Lenny's for Game 1 on Wednesday night -- says his heart is Phillies phaithful.

"Once they are divided against each other, you got to make a line in the sand," Schauer said. "The Phillies are my love."

Others living in the Clearwater/St. Petersburg area are faced with the same decision, as they weigh allegiances -- and a 62-year city history with the Phillies -- to decide which flag to fly.

"That's the difficult decision we find ourselves in right now," Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said. "But obviously a pretty enviable one. It's really a win-win situation."

Maybe not so for Hibbard's appearance, as the Mayor will reluctantly make good on his promise to get a Rays-supporting Mohawk hairstyle on Wednesday afternoon.

After local WFLA-AM 970 radio host Jack Harris commented on the Rays celebrations in Tampa and St. Petersburg, and openly questioned Clearwater's loyalty, Hibbard called the show to defend his city. Before he knew it, the Mayor had vowed on-air to get a 'Hawk if the Rays went to the World Series.

"I promised I would get it, and I am a man of my word," Hibbard said in a phone interview on Monday. "People are having way too much fun with it at my expense."

Hair dilemmas aside, Hibbard knows the situation his town is in is nothing short of extraordinary.

"We put up signs at the beginning of the postseason that said, 'Go Rays, Go Phillies', and we got our wish," said Hibbard, who is rooting for the Rays to win in seven games. "And we still got both of those."

Alice Young, director of sales and marketing at LaQuinta Inn Clearwater Central, has adopted a similar approach. The marquee outside her hotel reads "Phillies and Rays No. 1."

"The Phillies are first," Young said. "They are my biggest account."

The hotel, just steps away from Bright House Field, has been the out-of-town home to some of the Phillies Minor League players, team officials and fans who migrate south to catch Spring Training action.

"I mean, what do you do?" Young said. "Do you root for the ones who feed you or not?"

For Young's assistant, Anne Zenobio, the choice is simple. The Clearwater resident was born in Philadelphia, and while she has no qualms admitting she rooted for the Rays to make it to the World Series, that's where her cheering stops.

"I'm praying for [the Phillies] to do it," Zenobio said.

The decision is much tougher for fellow Philly native Amarylis Martinez, who has worked for the Rays for two seasons.

"I'm torn, because my first baseball game was a Phillies game," Martinez said. "But I work for the Rays, so I guess secretly I'd be rooting for them.

"Obviously, being a part of franchise history has an impact on you wanting [the Rays] to succeed, but then again, the Phillies haven't won the World Series since what? ... So, it's a difficult choice."

And although Martinez's father will fly into St. Petersburg for the start of the series with a Phillies jersey in tow, Martinez plans on giving him a Rays cap to balance things out.

"I told him he had to wear both," she said.

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.