Baseball storms back to Florida’s Port Charlotte

Community comes together at ballpark after devastating 2022 hurricane

Fans and spring training game
Rays and Phillies fans are excited to be back at Charlotte Sports Park (Photo: Melissa Akgez)  

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – Baseball is back in Port Charlotte.

Tampa Bay Rays have returned to the community for spring training after holding last year’s camp in Orlando while Port Charlotte recovered from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Ian in September, 2022.

The Category 5 Atlantic hurricane that killed 161 people and caused $113 billion in damage, wrecked the Port Charlotte Sports Park, the team’s training facility, and upended the lives of Rays fans and employees.

“I was very saddened to see the ballpark in the condition that it was, it almost brought tears to my eyes to see the devastation the hurricane caused,” said Frank Shorey, 81, assistant office manager for the Rays in Port Charlotte.

The effects of the storm are unforgettable to many in the county, and to baseball fans at the Rays game against the Philadelphia Phillies March 7.

 “Streets were blocked, trees were down and a lot of people lost their homes. Some people still do not have their homes,” said 40-year Port Charlotte resident Maryanne Sharkey.  

Some Port Charlotte residents consider themselves luckier than others. Pennsylvanian Ed Holloway has been coming to spring training for the last 27 years, ever since he moved to the Florida county.

“Our neighbour’s house was completely destroyed,” he said.

Even though they considered themselves fortunate they were also “out of work for a couple weeks because of no internet,” Holloway’s wife Teri added.

A fan host at the Charlotte Sports Park, Bill Darlington, recalled the chaotic scene. He’s lived in Port Charlotte for five years and remembered exactly what he observed at the facility a couple of days after the hurricane.

“Mangled metal, trees torn down and just pure destruction,” Darlington said.

Podcast: Trip to the Tampa Bay Rays spring game

Dylan Nazareth, David Leo and Christian Larsen share their experience from attending Thursday’s spring training game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies at the Port Charlotte Sports Complex.

Residents shared the experience of the hurricane and relied on each other for help in a time of tragedy.

“I saw our community come together, everybody took an interest in how I can help my neighbour and how can my neighbour help me,” Shorey said.

It as “a great come-together event,” Shorey said.

Other fans at the Port Charlotte stadium agreed.

“We had a generator, so everybody brought their food over and we had a gas grill, so we were cooking for everybody and sharing all the food,” Ed Holloway said.

Philadelphia Phillies fan Phil Coldren lent a hand as well. He played a role in bringing in necessities to help his community through his job at a window supply business.

“We pulled in a dozen or more tractor-trailers of generators, water and portions of food,” Coldren said.

When fans were asked how they felt about being back at this ballpark, the common answer was they loved it.  

And they showed it.

The 4,210 fans in attendance gave the stadium an electric feel. The sense of unity and battling adversity in the atmosphere brought fans of both teams closer together.

“When fans come to a ballgame, they’re happy,” Shorey said.

Port Charlotte residents have been waiting so long for baseball to be back and “you can tell they missed it last year and they’re glad to have the Rays back,” Darlington said.

Video: An afternoon at the ballpark for Rays Spring Training baseball

Toronto Observer reporter Dylan Nazareth explores the Port Charlotte Sports Complex during the Grapefruit League game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday afternoon to see which team has the better fanbase.

Photo Gallery


Spring training deals a hit at renovated Tampa Bay Rays merchandise store

The Grapefruit League logo shirt is the highest in-demand at the merch shop, sported here by Philadelphia resident Ralph Pellicore, 69.
Rays’ General Manager of Retail Steve Galbraith shows off a popular vintage jersey. (Photo: Aidan Cowling-McDonnell)

About this article

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Posted: Mar 13 2024 3:00 pm
Edition: Toronto
Filed under: Special Reports Baseball Sports