Phillies fans flock to Florida for pre-season fun in the sun

Harper signing highlights annual Spring Training trip for Philadelphia superfans

Detroit Tigers Spring Training Stadium
Fans enjoy an beautiful day of Spring Training baseball at Joker Marchant Stadium. Alejandro Gaitán/Toronto Observer

A family affair

For many, the annual pre-season is a chance to see their favourite team in action for the first time since the off-season. For others, it’s a chance to spend quality time with their families and transcend the sport of baseball to their kin.

The Brault family, who travelled all the way from Quebec, are one of many to grace Florida with their first trip down south for the event.

Spring Training provided them with an opportunity to embrace the sport from a grassroots perspective.

“It’s our first time being here for a spring game, but we’re here for the family time, and my kids are baseball players. I was a baseball player while I was young, now my kids are baseball players,” said Olivier Brault, inside the raucous concourse of Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium.

“My favourite thing about Spring Training is just watching baseball with my sons.”

Olivier’s sons, William-Alexis and Xavier-Raphael, are both aspiring baseball players with hopes of reaching the Major League.

“My oldest son (William-Alexis) represented Junior Little League Canada, and my youngest (Xavier-Raphael) is going to represent Quebec at the Canadian Little League Tournament this year,” Olivier said.

To the Brault clan, Spring Training is more critical for the overall experience than watching the games themselves. It’s truly a wholesome experience the entire family can enjoy.

By Gord Brown

LAKELAND, Fla. – It was one week ago when marquee free agent Bryce Harper signed his record-breaking deal with the Philadelphia Phillies for $330 million US over 13 years.

For Phillies superfans Ann Milns and Bobby Windish, the signing propelled them, and their already baseball-crazed city, into pure bliss.

“Oh, everybody is just beside themselves with joy,” Milns said, grinning ear to ear. “They have billboards up [in Philadelphia], the T-shirts are selling like hotcakes, and the jerseys. It’s a major event, that’s for sure.”

“One radio station is now ‘Bryce FM,’” Windish added.

Harper did not play in the Phillies’ 3-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers Thursday afternoon at Joker Marchant Stadium, but the two friends are already counting down the days until their latest signing makes his first appearance.

“Bryce is going to play on Saturday as a [designated hitter],” said Milns, decked out in Phillies gear from head to toe. “That’ll be our last game for the group.”

This spring training marks the 26th consecutive trip to Florida for Milns and the 12th for Windish, who has attended every year since her retirement in 2007.

“I just love baseball so much, and my Phillies,” Windish said, sporting a bright green Philadelphia Phanatic hat while proudly showing off her new Harper jersey. “I just love them, I’d go anywhere with them if I could.”

While baseball comes first for these two fans, they know that the spring training experience goes far beyond the diamond.

The people, the palm trees, the weather, and the quirky moments that you can only experience with other baseball fans in Florida are what make spring training so special for the pair of friends.

“I got asked for an autograph one time,” Windish said with a laugh.

Philadelphia Phillies superfans Ann Milns, left, and Bobby Windish, right, pose together at the Joker Marchant Stadium. (Pete Borkowski/Toronto Observer)

A man and his son stopped Windish in Clearwater, Fla., requesting a picture and an autograph from the Phillies fan who, as always, was wearing her distinguishable Philly Phanatic hat.

“I’m there like, ‘You do know I’m not the Phanatic?’” said Windish. “‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘I just want your autograph.’ So I gave him an autograph. That was odd, really crazy.”

Milns reminisced about her own spring training memories over the last quarter-century.

“One, for instance, was seeing Charlie Manuel at Lenny’s when I was in there for breakfast at the very popular restaurant in Clearwater,” she said. “And years ago I got Harry Kalas’ autograph over at the old Jack Russell Stadium before the Phillies were in the new ballpark.”

LISTEN: The magic of Spring Training

Manuel managed the Phillies to a World Series win in 2008 – their second overall and first since 1980 – while Kalas was the radio play-by-play announcer for the Phillies for 39 seasons from 1971 to 2009. Understandably, this was a big deal for a fan of the Phillies, and yet another example of the unique experiences that are so distinctive of Spring Training.

The Pennsylvania natives are confident that their Phillies will compete for a World Series title, adding that they look forward to watching their favourite players Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins take the field this Spring Training.

“And now that we have Bryce Harper, he has to get added to the list,” said Milns with a smile.

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Posted: Mar 7 2019 11:07 pm
Edition: Toronto
Filed under: Special Reports Baseball Features Sports