The Philadelphia Union will have a "spring training" trip of their own in 2015, and it will be right next door to the Phillies' longtime home in Clearwater.
Jim Curtin's squad will spend much of February on the soccer fields at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex, which is literally across a street from one of Bright House Field's parking lots.
"For more than 60 years, Clearwater has proven to be a world class host to the Philadelphia Phillies, and we look forward to forging a long tradition and relationship with both parties," Union Nick Sakiewicz said in a statement issued by the team.
Those of you who've followed Major League Soccer since its early years know that Sakiewicz is no stranger to the Tampa region. He was the president of the now-defunct Mutiny from 1996 to 1999, and had lived in the area at other times previously.
The Union will call Clearwater their preseason home for at least three years, and have an option to extend the deal. According to the Clearwater Gazette, the city will spend $148,000 to upgrade the DiMaggio Complex, and the Union will pay $23,000 a year in rent.
Union executive vice president Dave Rowan told me those upgrades will include renovations to the field, meeting spaces and the installation of bleachers with capacity for around 2,000 fans. In the next few years, the city will add a clubhouse, press box facilities and improved seating.
Rowan added that there will be some cross-promotional marketing between the Union and the Phillies on television, social media and elsewhere.
"It's not going to be at the level of Major League Baseball's spring training, but over the years, we think it can grow into a great opportunity for fans to get closer to teams," he told me. "And in a time period when you want to get out of the lovely weather in the Northeast."
Rowan has his own personal connection to Clearwater. He served as the general manater of the Clearwater Phillies (they're now the Threshers) in 1985 and 1986, helping to turn the team into a year-round organization.
For the last three years, the Union trained in Deltona, Fla., near Orlando. That included participation in the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, which was held at DisneyWorld's sports complex.
We won't see that tournament again this year, but we will see a tournament for MLS teams hosted by the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., from February 16-28. That's just an hour's drive from Tampa, so the Union won't have to go far from their base.
The other teams in the IMG tournament are the Columbus Crew, Toronto FC, New York Red Bulls, the USL PRO's Oklahoma City Energy, Denmark's HB Køge, London United (their backstory is here), and the Costa Rican Under-23 national team.
Along with the games in Bradenton, the Union will play two North American Soccer League teams. They'll face the expansion Jacksonville Armada at EverBank Field, home of the NFL's Jaguars, on February 7; and they'll host the Tampa Bay Rowdies at the DiMaggio complex on February 10.
It's the second straight year that the Union will play a preseason game in Jacksonville. They faced D.C. United at EverBank Field in 2013.
For the game against the Rowdies, Rowan told me that Rowan noted that capacity at the DiMaggio complex will be around 4,000, incuding space for fans who wish to stand or bring folding chairs.
Among the options for Union supporters wanting to travel to Clearwater is a package offered by the team for the weekend of February 20-22. It includes a welcome reception, tickets to the February 21 game in the IMG Tournament, and an open practice and BBQ with the team the following day.
Here's the Union's full preseason schedule:
Thursday, January 22: Team reports for preseason physicals
Monday, January 26 through Thursday, January 29: Closed training sessions at YSC Sports in Wayne, Pa.
Thursday, January 29: Media day at YSC Sports
Friday, January 30: Open training day for fans at YSC Sports, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Monday, February 2: Team departs for Clearwater, Fla.
Saturday, February 7: Game vs. Jacksonville Armada at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., 5 p.m.
Tuesday, February 10: Game vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies at Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex in Clearwater, 6 p.m.
Thursday, February 12: Team returns to Philadelphia
Monday, February 16: Team departs for Clearwater, Fla.; IMG Suncoast Pro Classic tournament begins in Bradenton, Fla.
Wednesday, February 18: IMG Suncoast Pro Classic game vs. Costa Rica under-23 national team, 2:30 p.m.
Friday, February 20: Spring Training fan trip welcome reception
Saturday, February 21: 18: IMG Suncoast Pro Classic game vs. TP Mazembe, 7:30 p.m. (Included in Spring Training fan trip ticket package)
Sunday, February 22: Spring Training fan trip open practice and BBQ with the team
Wednesday, February 25: IMG Suncoast Pro Classic game vs. Columbus Crew, 5:30 p.m.
Saturday, February 28: IMG Suncoast Pro Classic game vs. TBA (classification round); afterward, team returns to Philadelphia
Those of you who follow both baseball and soccer (and I know you're out there) will have figured out that there is some overlap with the Phillies' arrival in Clearwater. Pitchers and catchers report on February 18, and position players report toward the end of the month. So you might see Cole Hamels (unless he gets traded) or Ken Giles if you make that fan weekend trip.
So if you're reading this and you know anyone who works at Frenchy's or Lenny's, let them know to have a few extra grouper sandwiches and danish baskets on hand during that time.