University of Tampa Spartans @ Philadelphia Phillies
2016 Spring Training Philadelphia Phillies hosted University of Tampa Baseball with an impressive resume best described by the analogy of their mascot, the Spartans. They are the best kept secret in baseball; reigning in the shadows of college baseball. As in the 2006 film “300,” this Division II college baseball program has “stood and fought” with the highest level of competition. In January of 2014, the Spartans went to Cuba on a good will tour and went undefeated with a 3-0 record. The intent was a cultural exchange. Nonetheless, they played tough teams. Spartan later won the 2015 NCAA Division II National Title. That tournament was held at the USA Baseball National Training Center in Cary, North Carolina. Since their first NCAA Division II National Championship in 1992, they’ve gone on to win (8) total; (5) of those titles in the last (15) years. Spartans have been on the good side of winning baseball; playing .500 since its 1978 season. During that same time, there have been over 50 MLB Amateur Draft Picks who came from University of Tampa.
In 2015, 2016, and 2017, Spartans were invited by the Philadelphia Phillies to play an exhibition game, kicking off Spring Training at Bright House Field (currently renamed Spectrum Field), the Florida home of the Philadelphia Phillies. These invites are not unique to the Phillies. Other teams have done the same. The New York Mets have played University of Michigan Wolverines and the Boston Red Sox have played Boston College. This was the second invitation for the Spartans. Just the year before, Spartans beat the Philadelphia Phillies 6-2; their inaugural game in the Grapefruit League. Andrew Amaro, the nephew of General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was on that Spartans team. It goes without saying that Ruben Amaro Jr. received ongoing questions about the upcoming 2015 Regular Season. For the most part, Spartans were playing with players at the Triple-A level. Of course, any given MLB team will send invitations to their prospects at varying levels of player development and can have a roster with as many as (45) players in camp. Clearwater, Florida, is “Phillies Nation.” The city has hosted the Philadelphia Phillies Spring Training since 1947.
There’s no doubt that these young Phillies were playing like their life depended on it. Yet, the mutual respect and overall friendliness between the two teams was very noticeable. The Phillies were on the right side of winning on this day, beating Spartans 8-3. For the 2016 regular season, Phillies would go on to win (15) games in the month of April.