- Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 April 2014 10:42
- Published on Wednesday, 30 April 2014 10:42
- Hits: 3002
Steve Swope is making the best of his retirement years. He dedicated his entire professional life to the town and citizens of Colonial Beach; however, after 34 years the Fredericksburg area sports icon has found a career niche with the Philadelphia Phillies MLB organization.
For 50 years, through the best of times, and the lean years, Swope has passionately followed the Phillies, and this year, his baseball passion has become a reality in the form of being a spring training usher at Bright House Field Stadium, in Clearwater, Fla.
“I thoroughly enjoyed myself in Florida,” Swope said. “It was one of the top five things I’ve ever done in my life.”
Most recently, after returning from Florida, Swope reflected on his experience with the Phillies. Along with making adjustments to lodging, and becoming acclimated to the warm and sunny weather, Swope discovered a host of new friends and professional alliances. “I would go outside, and take a picture of those blue skies and palm trees, and send it back to my wife (Anne),” Swope said. “While it was 52 degrees in Colonial Beach, it was nearly 80 degrees in Clearwater. I missed Colonial Beach, but I didn’t miss it that much—it was nice down in Florida.”
According to Swope, his job could be described as a glorified WalMart greeter; he greeted fans as they came in to watch their favorite team. The stadium (360-degree main concourse) provided 8,000 to 9,000 baseball fans an opportunity to see some notable baseball MLB players such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, and manager Ryne Sandberg. Frequently Swope associated with the Phillies executive management, including senior president and general manager, Ruben Omaro, Jr. and player personnel.
“I described it to my wife as being in a make-believe world,” Swope said. “It was like being a 10-year old kid waking up, and having an opportunity to go to Disney World every day.”
Affectionately tagged with the nickname “Stick” by members of the Phillies and his fellow ushers, Swope blended in to the organization quickly. “It’s fun to have a new identity and a new setting in life,” Swope said. However, now that he has cut his teeth on the prodigious atmosphere of MLB, he aspires to reach farther into organization. “I intend to speak with Mr. Omaro in regard to taking part in additional roles with the Phillies organization; possibly taking a role in the team’s morning practices,” Swope said.
Swope’s new office, aka Bright House Field was built in 2004. The Phillies have used Clearwater as their official training area since 1967. Adjacent to the stadium is the Phillies minor league Carpenter Field, which is the spring training site for the Phillies minor league teams (Gulf Coast League Phillies). In addition, it is also the home of the Phillies, High-A minor league affiliate, Clearwater Threshers.
Bright House also features a state-of-the-art video scoreboard, a tiki hut pavilion, group picnic areas, kids play area and an expansive team store.
Fans who attend spring training are infatuated with the intimate ambiance of the small stadium setting, where they can get an up close perspective of America’s favorite pastime. “It’s like coming to Monroe Park, and watching a professional baseball practice or watching the game in a small setting,” Swope said. “It’s a neat way to see your favorite team.”
Along with meeting a host of baseball legends, Swope also rubbed elbows with the world of entertainment. He had an opportunity to exchange dialogue with famed WWE wrestler, Hulk Hogan and Yankee legendary left-handed pitcher, David Wells. He also had the rare opportunity to meet with America’s history by speaking with one of the women baseball players from the World War II era, who was characterized in the 1992 movie, “A League of their Own.” Other people from the world of entertainment that crossed paths with Swope included Philadelphia based rock band, Blackthorn, sportscaster Greg Murphy, Stephen Hillenburg, and sports Philadelphia columnist Jim Salisbury.
Nearly 20 years ago, Salisbury wrote a story about a heated dispute that involved two fans at an Oriole and Phillies baseball game. One of the parties happened to be Swope. Not only did Salisbury remember the incident, but he established a friendship with Swope during their reintroduction.
Many college and community friends, Swope’s wife and his three sons (Joey, Tyler, Kevin) visited him and spent quality family time with him in Clearwater. Along with experiencing fan pandemonium in Clearwater, with watching a sea of red Phillies fans covering the island of Clearwater, they had an opportunity to visit the abundance of restaurants in the area. While Swope loved having the option of experiencing a new restaurant, his love for grouper sandwiches was by far his favorite. For breakfast, Swope found an eatery with a menu similar to his Colonial Beach hometown restaurant, Lenny’s. Interestingly, the place was also named Lenny’s.
Prior to coming to Clearwater, in January, Swope was given a retirement present from his family, and several close friends from the Colonial Beach School system, in the form of participating in the annual Philadelphia Phillies Fantasy Baseball Camp.
Swope left the Drifters baseball and basketball program in capable hands with two legendary area sports figures - Brent Steffey and Jonathan Parker. After accumulating over 1,000 wins in both sports last year, Swope came to the difficult decision to retire and see out new challenges in life. “When it hit last spring, I knew it was going to be my last year of baseball,” Swope said. “I knew this other opportunity was out there, and I didn’t want to keep letting it go by without experiencing it. God lined up everything for this happen.”
Outside of his four years at Virginia Tech, the idea of staying away from his beloved town of Colonial Beach was foreign to him. Now that his second career is firmly in place, the sky is the limit. With his wife’s impending retirement next year, the couple will soon make Clearwater a permanent part of their yearly travels.
“It’s fun to have a new identity and new setting in life,” Swope said. “It was a unique experience to carve my professional niche in the next era of my life.”