Phillies, phans enjoy phestivities

Phillies, phans enjoy phestivities

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- With the Phillie Phanatic and Threshers mascot Phinley greeting fans at the turnstiles, the Phillies marked the start of Spring Training with a flourish as they created a carnival-type setting at the annual Phillies Phan Fest charity event on Friday at Bright House Field in Clearwater.

Fans were treated to a plethora of activities, including player autograph signings, silent auction and raffles for Phillies memorabilia, and a yard sale of game-used items. It was clear by the 5:30 p.m. ET start that fans brought a sense of excitement that they hope will carry over to the team.

"This is always a great time and a great way to get close with the team," said Ted Kupper, 49, a salesman from Nutley, N.J. "Philadelphia fans are special because we feel like we're an extension of the team. And this year's team parallels a lot with the 1993 team in its personality and character."

Kupper expressed his views about Spring Training and the Phillies Phan Fest while waiting in line for autographs with his good friend, Mike Covington.

"The great thing about Spring Training is that you're able to enjoy nice weather and get autographs while seeing your favorite players up close," said Covington, 50, who works for the post office in Dennisville, N.J.

Covington, who has been coming to Spring Training for 20 years, proudly showed off his three banners that displayed a whole host of player signatures.

The free event, sponsored by the City of Clearwater Department of Parks and Recreation, the Phillies and the Clearwater Threshers, gave fans the opportunity to participate in an assortment of games and activities, as well.

"It's a lot of fun because there's so much to do," said Nicholas Miller, 8, who had just finished participating in the speed pitch contest and the moon bounce.

Miller and his father, Dan, 37, were in town visiting from Woolwich, N.J. and were getting in as many activities as possible, including receiving autographs from Phillies Alumni Club legends Garry Maddox and Gary Matthews.

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"It's pretty incredible that you're able to do something like this and get up close to some of the all-time greats that you grew up watching," said Miller, who was attending the fan fest with his son for the first time.

Brad Lidge, Jamie Moyer, Geoff Jenkins, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Ruiz, Pedro Feliz, So Taguchi and Greg Dobbs were available throughout much of the night to sign autographs, and fans were able to purchase tickets to receive four autographs.

The $15 coupons were a part of proceeds raised during the night for Phillies Charities, Inc., an organization that distributed funds to Clearwater For Youth, Clearwater Little League and Hospice of Florida Suncoast.

In addition to the player autographs, fans had the opportunity to meet legendary boxing trainer Angelo Dundee, who took part in a book signing for his new release, My View From The Corner.

While kids had a multitude of chances to participate in activities like face painting, speed-pitch throw, a playground, and a rock-climbing wall, adult fans were able to purchase raffle tickets to win either a 2006 National League MVP Ryan Howard autographed bat, a 2007 MVP Jimmy Rollins autographed ball, or a Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt autographed ball.

"That's what makes this whole thing a great event," said Carol Wiechec, widow of former Phillies and Eagles trainer Frank Wiechec. "People of all ages can enjoy the Phillies and this great organization in an up-close fashion."

Wiechec, in town for her 20th Spring Training -- along with friends Sharon Shultz and Teddy Kupper -- showed off the 1950 "Wiz Kids" championship ring that her husband had received after the Phillies had won the pennant.

After the end-of-the-night raffle, the evening concluded with a spectacular fireworks show that filled the Clearwater night.

Chris Girandola is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.