Spring training was a success, and not just for the Phillies who trailed the Twins by a half game for the top spot in the Grape Fruit League.
The season was a boon for Clearwater businesses as well, where officials expect a $55-million impact for the area.
Bob Clifford, president of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce said every spring training game sold out.
“That’s a pretty significant indicator,” he said.
The Pinellas County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau collects data on spring training, but Clifford said those numbers are not yet available.
Clifford said about 70 percent of the $55-million comes from spring training. The Threshers, the Florida State League affiliate of the Phillies, start play this week which, Clifford said, brings in the remaining 30 percent of the $55-million.
As the Threshers get set to open the minor league season with a game at Dunedin today and a home game Friday, the businesses around Bright House Field rave about the last two months.
“It was crazy,” said Drew Marte, a bartender at Tilted Kilt. “Both before the game and after the game. Phillies fans are fun.”
Marte estimates business at the bar and restaurant quadrupled during spring training. And while fans packed the Tilted Kilt, he can’t remember any real problems.
“It was a good time," Marte said. "Even the away teams get along with everyone. Once a Phillies fan and a Yankees fan got into it, but that was it.”
While fans stormed local eateries, locals planned around the games.
Owners at Lenny’s, a breakfast tradition with locals, said that the regulars plan for the rush accordingly.
“Everybody knows every year it’s going to be busy – the locals come in at 1:05 when games start,” said Ben Farrell, one of the owners.
He estimates Lenny’s sees “a 107.5 percent” increase in business.
“Sometimes we have two hour waits for breakfast and lunch, but as soon as the game starts it clears out. Everybody knows the routine,” he said.
While locals can squeeze into a restaurant during the games, finding a place to stay might prove more challenging.
Jerry Sawyer, who works at the Holiday Inn Express on Gulf-to-Bay Blvd, said that his hotel fills up during spring training. The rest of the year it is about 65 percent occupied, but in March, the hotel “is completely sold out.”
“It’s both players and fans. They pretty much fill up our whole hotel,” Sawyer said.
He said that despite a hotel brimming with players and fans, the Holiday Inn had no problems. He said both fans and players kept things clean.
“Everyone is here to have a good time,” Sawyer said.