As Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins take the field to open the Grape Fruit League schedule against the Yankees, fans will surely be snacking in the stands throughout Spring Training.
The Phillies spend a lot of time and money developing a star-studded staff of players. And Bruce Leith in his role managing concessions at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and in Clearwater feels a similar call to duty.
Until the mid-1980s, fan fare was basically, peanuts, hot dogs and beer or soda, Leith said. Now fans expect diverse menus, the food is as much of a draw as the game.
So, months before the first pitch is ever thrown, Leith is in negotiations, assembling his own staff of players to tempt fans' palattes.
“We didn’t want people just to come in an get a hot dog and a beer,” Leith said.
More than just peanuts and Cracker Jacks, foodie fans can mix flavors from Philly and the Tampa Bay Area, including for the first time barbecue from Lee Roy Selmon’s and Boar’s Head cuban sandwiches.
Concessions also feature Tasty Kakes, cheesesteaks from (who has a location in Dunedin and in Chadds Ford, PA) and (which uses many ingredients imported from up north), local favorite and to cool off on those warm spring days.
Although the majority of concession sales are cheeseteaks, hot dogs and beer, Leith said fans surveyed also want healthy options.
In addition to the butterscotch krimpets or peanut butter candy cakes, fans of more healthy confections can find fresh fruit, sweet potato fries and gluten-free foods available for the first time this season.
Leith knows that food is the salve to sooth even the most rabid fan. Afterall, Philly fans are known to be some of the most brutal, once famously booing Santa and pelting him with snowballs at an Eagles game. Some baseball fans broke into riots celebrating the Phillies World Series win in 2008.
But even with more relaxed alcohol sales rules at Bright House Field than at Citizens Bank Park, rowdy fans never seem to be a big problem, Leith said.
So, of course drink specials are on tap. Bottled beers can be ordered by the bucket and a new 32-ounce rum drink is available, too.
“You grab your bucket and you go out on the berm,” Leith said.
It is hard to imagine Bright House Field without some of its signature pieces including the tiki bar, but at one point during construction nine years ago, architects wanted to remove the left field stand from the plans, Leith said.
More fans than ever (the stadium had an all time attendance record of 157,201 last season) congregate around the tiki bar and center field berm, sipping drinks and eating cheesesteaks, mixing the laidback Florida lifestyle with Philly flavor.
“The big reason is atmosphere,” Leith said. “It’s done wonders for us.”
What: Phillies vs Yankees
When: 1:05 p.m. March 3
Probable pitchers: Cole Hamels vs tba
Take a bite outside the ball park:
Location: 34200 US Highway 19, Palm Harbor
Name: Rita’s Italian Ice
Location: 1010 Court St and 2510 N McMullen Booth Road
Location: 1250 S Missouri Ave
Location: 2820 Gulf to Bay Blvd