Tagged: Dunedin Blue Jays 2015

Return to the Road: Driving in Sunshine

Regular readers of this blog might recall that, in years past, I supplemented  my “On the Road” ballpark material with “Return to the Road” posts detailing that which I was able to experience outside of the ballpark. I always enjoyed doing this, but as my operation has expanded (in scope, if not in scale) I have found it increasingly difficult to incorporate “non-ballpark” activity into my schedule.

That said, I do my best, and figured that these early months of 2016 represented a good opportunity to go back and revisit my 2015 trips. Yes, let’s Return to the Road! This post will focus on my trip to Florida, which took place from April 11 to the 19th.

Ben_Map_April_2015_Florida_7hzbjnkzDespite the relatively short drives from ballpark to ballpark on this trip, I didn’t have the time to explore many of the towns themselves. I didn’t even set foot on a beach, outside of the night I sleepwalked onto one while wearing an ankle-length gown and nightcap. But what I’ve got is something, and something is always better than nothing.

April 11

It all started in the town of Pinellas Park, Florida, where I set up shop prior to visiting the nearby Bradenton Marauders. As you can see, this is an American town like no other, one in which Mr. Pool uses supplementary signage to clarify that he does, indeed, sell pools.

IMG_0845Being gluten-free on the road is tough. Since my celiac disease diagnosis, I always pack an extra bag of road snacks to insure that I’ll have an option. But best of all is finding something that meets my needs and tastes great. Often, that something is Vietnamese. When I saw this sign, I was like “Pho Quyen, awesome!”

IMG_0843 Lunch of champions.

IMG_0842Pho Quyen is located within a shopping center with a line-up of stores quite unlike any shopping center I had been in. (Purple Ringer is, perhaps inevitably, a smoke shop.)

IMG_0844Later in the day, on the way to Bradenton, I drove over a bridge.

IMG_0846April 12

The objective on this day was to get to Steinbrenner Field, home of the Tampa Yankees, in time for a pregame local food fest on the concourse. Time was of the essence, but nonetheless I was able to make a pit stop at a record store.

IMG_0877This is Mojo Books and Records in Tampa. It opened in 2007, during a period when most stores of this nature were shutting down or in their death throes. Mojo is packed to the gills with new and used books, LPs and CDs, and a coffee shop is located on the premises as well. My lone photo does not do it justice.

IMG_0876Unfortunately I cannot locate the pocket notebook in which I wrote down what I purchased, but I know it included the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Freedom Tower — No Wave Dance Party” as well as a day-by-day diary “written” by Pete Rose as he chronicled his record-breaking 1985 season.

That evening, as I was driving from somewhere to somewhere, I discovered that Wawa (cultishly beloved in eastern Pennsylvania) exists in Florida as well. They even stocked Herr’s and Tastykake.

IMG_0894April 13

I spent the evening with the Dunedin Blue Jays, but prior to that I spent a nice chunk of the afternoon in St. Petersburg. I was impressed with the downtown area, Central Avenue, to be specific, which was vibrant and tree-lined. The State Theatre is located on the left hand side of the below photo, a venue that hosts a diverse array of concerts (although, looking at the current listings, none that I would pay to go see. Except maybe Bubba Sparxxx).

IMG_0896The Local 299, at the time (and maybe still) surrounded by scaffolding, also has live music.

IMG_0898Daddy Kool Records is located next door to Local 299. I went inside, and took my standard issue poor-quality photo.

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I enjoyed wandering through Daddy Kool’s but nothing was really jumping out of the stacks at me. I debated buying a record by Midnight, a Cleveland metal band, but it was, like, $30 bucks. I have a hard time understanding why records are that expensive. In lieu of that, I picked up Mudhoney’s “Live at Third Man Records” LP (marking the second day in a row I bought a new record by a band I’ve been a fan of for two decades. Old habits die hard).

I did not visit the Stoner Organization, as I am in no need of a health benefits specialist.

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My main objective in St. Petersburg, however, was to visit Minor League Baseball headquarters. I’ll write about that in the next post.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: An All-Access Pass in Dunedin

This season, my “On the Road” blog posts from each ballpark I visit will be split up into several installments. To see all of my posts from this visit to the Dunedin Blue Jays (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

The Dunedin Blue Jays are the lowest-attended team in full-season Minor League Baseball’s lowest-attended league. I attended a game there on a Monday — Minor League Baseball’s lowest-attended day.

Therefore, I was really psyched to be there!

019 No, really, I was — and not just because it was “Ben Hill Night.”

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I was psyched to attend this game because I truly love these sort of environments, as teams operating on the margins of the industry are prone to be more creative with their promotions and, in general, a loose anything-goes sort of vibe prevails. Sparsely attended games within older stadiums in smaller markets are, strangely enough, when the ballpark atmosphere seems most alive to me. Eccentric characters are easier to find; connections are easier to make.

So, yeah: While it’s always great to visit shiny new ballparks with all the amenities — your Charlottes, your Nashvilles, your El Pasos — it is perhaps even greater to  spend time in the lesser-known locales as well. I don’t just feel obligated to visit the likes of Bakersfield, Kannapolis, Beloit and Dunedin. I genuinely want to.

As for the D-Jays’ home Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, built in 1990, you have no excuse not to visit. Last season, the team became the first in Minor League Baseball to offer the Universal Rain Check (an initiative first advocated for within this blog).

I wrote an article about the Universal Rain Check for MiLB.com; below please find a relevant excerpt:

Baseball history was made in Dunedin, Florida on July 19, 2014, as the first Universal Rain Check was redeemed.

A “Universal Rain Check” might initially sound like a strange concept, but it is just what its name implies: Fans may redeem a ticket from any rained-out Minor League Baseball game for a game at the Dunedin Blue Jays’ home of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Whether that ticket is from the Vancouver Canadians (located some 3,200 miles away) or the nearby Clearwater Threshers, the fan in possession of it is assured of complimentary admission.

The Universal Rain Check is the brainchild of D-Jays director of marketing and social media Nate Kurant, who was inspired to implement the program after going on a Minor League road trip with a friend.

“In 2013, we went from Charleston to Savannah to Jacksonville; we went north and then came back south,” said Kurant. “And every day there was about a 70 percent chance of rain. And like most traveling Minor League fans — if it rains and that’s your day in the city, that’s it. I came back, and the idea met opportunity here in Dunedin. We have a few seats available.”

Okay, maybe not this many seats available, but let’s just say that sellouts are few and far between.

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Still confused by how the Universal Rain Check works? Don’t dismay — I, along with D-Jays director of marketing and social media Nate Kurant, filmed a dramatic re-enactment. (You might have to turn the volume up a little bit, as my voice didn’t project all that well through the plexi-glass.)

Bibliophiles visiting the Dunedin Blue Jays should make sure to strike up conversation with box office employee Jack Whitaker, who is an English major. When not selling tickets, he’s reading books such as Foucault’s Discipline  and Punish.

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I wish that I had had more time to explore the town of Dunedin, as by all accounts it is a very picturesque location. But that was my Foucault, as I had had to rush to the ballpark after visiting Minor League Baseball headquarters in St. Petersburg earlier in the afternoon. That visit, among other things, produced this brilliant Vine video filmed under the patient direction of Minor League Baseball director of communications Jeff Lantz

Anyhow, my “exploration” of the area surrounding Florida Auto Exchange Stadium was limited to taking a picture of the VFW across the street.

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This is indicative of the of the extent to which the stadium is sandwiched within a quiet, almost entirely residential area. An elementary school is located beyond the left field fence, while a library can be found beyond right.

And just beyond these trees, approximately 600 feet from the stadium, lies a saltwater beach. (Or at least that’s what I was told.)

026Within the stadium, there’s a wide open concourse.

023And, because anything less would be uncivilized, a wide-open field.

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Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, which I prefer to refer to as Sunshine State Car Swap Field, is also the Spring Training home of the Toronto Blue Jays. (“Last month this place was crawling with Canadians,” Kurant told me). Signifiers of this recurring March residency can be found everywhere.

028 The likes of president Paul Beeston and general manager Alex Anthopoulos have their own offices here.

034But with none of the bigwigs on hand to cramp my style, I pretty much had free reign of the place.

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My free reign continued throughout the evening, and a most enjoyable evening it was. Stay tuned for part two of this Dunedin Blue Jays saga, in which I throw out a stellar first pitch, witness a kid insult his grandfather, fail at making a deal and much, much more.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Dealing in Dunedin

This season, my “On the Road” blog posts from each ballpark I visit will be split up into several installments. To see all of my posts from this visit to the Dunedin Blue Jays (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

As mentioned in Part One of this ongoing saga, I had the good fortune of visiting the Dunedin Blue Jays on “Ben Hill Night.”

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And when it’s Ben Hill Night, you can bet your top, middle and bottom dollar on the fact that Ben Hill will throw out a first pitch. I’d say that this was one of my better efforts, but I always put in a good effort. It’s just the results that tend to differ.

It’s pretty much impossible to see, but I’d like to note that the scoreboard announced my presence with the graphic “Huge Celebrity Ben Hill.” It’s either that or “manic calamity,” which might be more accurate.

hugeceleb

After my first pitch came the National Anthem. Note, in this photo, the D-Jays’ version of the CN Tower located just past the third base line. They don’t call Dunedin “Lil Toronto” for nothing.

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It’s a long road from Lil Toronto to Big Toronto, but some hardy souls have made it. Many others have perished, as if they were unwilling Cormac McCarthy protagonists.

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For reasons I can’t quite recall, my own road soon led to the team’s promo room.

“I’ve been here for four years, and I don’t think I’ve seen any of this stuff used,” said D-Jays director of marketing and social media Nate Kurant. “Maybe we shot the rubber chicken at something long ago.”

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I also had the privilege of trying on a pair of “drunk goggles,” which make everything appear blurred and distorted. (Wearing them is akin to the sensation produced by watching Fox News.) These goggles, in conjunction with a dizzy bat race, would be lethal. It makes me sick just thinking about it.

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Maybe they sell team logo drunk goggles in the team store? I neglected to check, although I appreciated the thoughtful placement of a full-length dressing mirror from afar. Also, I hope that whoever left their beer outside remembered to pick it up on the way out. Or maybe they were Dundrinkin?

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There was a somnambulant aura throughout the ballpark on this evening. Maybe the denizens of Lil Toronto were at home watching the Blue Jays home opener? (As shown on the TV above the concession stand.)

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Or maybe we don’t look need to look any further than the fact that it was a weekday game. The worst kind of weekday game, in fact.

038DJ says “Who loves ya, baby?”

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It was a sleepy atmosphere, but an exceedingly pleasant one. Fun Fact! The fans depicted in this photo are none other than Florida State League president Ken Carson and his wife, Lillian. The Carsons are based in Dunedin — he was the Blue Jays’ director of Florida operations from 1986 through 2006 — but we ended up crossing paths again in both Vero Beach and St. Lucie as they did their own league tour.

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For some reason I decided to film a between-inning trivia contest emceed by Nate. I’m glad that I did because this kid, he has issues with his grandfather’s living habits. I also like that DJ just happens to be in the background, posing for pictures, just winging it.

That wasn’t the end of the between-inning hijinks, as Nate asked me to be a contestant in a “Let’s Make A Deal” competition behind the dugout. But who would I compete against? He soon decided to ask this young woman, who was sitting by herself behind home plate.

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Success! (They had just high-fived, she wasn’t shooing him away.)

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While we were waiting for our moment in the spotlight, a foul ball was hit behind us and then bounced down to the aisle. No one — literally, no one — made a move for it so I reluctantly got up and grabbed it. (I mean, usually I’d be all about getting a ball, but in when I’m in Ben’s Biz mode it seems kind of tacky).

Meanwhile, my soon-to-be-opponent was probably counting down the seconds until she could return to her baseball-watching solitude. Her name was Ashley; a California resident in town to visit a friend.

057

Finally, it was showtime. Ashley was presented with a strip of 10 Florida lottery tickets and given the option: Did she want to keep them, or opt to choose a mystery prize from one of three bags?

059 Ashley, being a cautious sort, opted to keep the tickets. I now had the option to choose from one of three bags.

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Since some dude was yelling “Two!” really loudly, I figured that would be the best choice. That dude — and by extension, me — was wrong. In said bag was this:

Bag on head, I walked off dejectedly (man, I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve written that sentence).

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But wait! I was soon handed a consolation strip of five lotto tickets, which quickly made me into something in life that I’ve always aspired to be: A winner. A gosh danged winner.

UPDATE! Yeah, I got that paper:

lootto

Anyhow, there was now nothing left to do but soak in a little bit more of that soothing “Monday night in Lil Toronto” atmosphere.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” says Nate. “I’m unprepared.”

I passed the time by writing down snippets of overheard dialogue, including but not limited to:

“I met a woman last night. She hated birds and she hated black toilets.”

“Human faces should be faces and they should not be morphed.”

Unfortunately, Salute to Human Faces Night is not part of the team’s promo schedule. I checked:

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And, hey — look! Number 11 is at bat with a 1-1 count and one out. SCOREBOARD YAHTZEE

yahtzee

Finally, I conducted an interview with 10 year old “ball rat” Dylan Snyder, a regular presence at the ballpark who has become quite skilled at snagging the leather spheroid.

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In this exclusive audio segment, Dylan discusses his policy as regards giving his baseballs to other fans. It’s hilarious. LISTEN:

That’ll do it from Dunedin, at least until part three of this series appears shortly. And, yes, before anyone complains, I know that Dunedin is not actually referred to as “Lil Toronto.” Thanks for reading this far, and apologies for not taking the time to visit the nearby Wal-Mart where Daniel Norris used to camp out in his RV. Such an effort would no doubt have landed me my first Pulitzer, but I opted for dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings instead. I usually do.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Never Done Eating in Dunedin

This season, my “On the Road” blog posts from each ballpark I visit will be split up into several installments. To see all of my posts from this visit to the Dunedin Blue Jays (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Florida State League concession menus generally don’t go too far beyond “the basics.” This was certainly the case in Dunedin, especially since I attended on a sleepy Monday. (See the first part of my Dunedin report HERE and part two HERE.)

But, nonetheless, I had a designated eater to appease. (You know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits.)

This guy, specifically. In a designated eating first, he even brought along his own bodyguard.

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The scowling individual stuffing a hot dog down his gullet is Mike Lortz, a self-described “Minor League Baseball aficionado” who was a key contributor to the now-defunct Bus Leagues Baseball website. He also provides deep analysis of the Tampa Bay Baseball market via his accurately-named Tampa Bay Baseball Market blog. He’s also an “occasional stand-up comic” and a “current business student at the University of South Florida.”

The scowling individual standing behind Lortz is Jeff Perro, a former Minor League Baseball clubhouse attendant who can be found on Twitter via the accurately-named handle of @MiLBClubbie.

D-Jays assistant general manager Mike Liberatore, taking control of a potentially volatile situation, presented Mike with a selection of grilled meats.

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Seen above, from left to right, is a brat, Polish sausage and hot dog. Directly above that triumvirate, please find a cheeseburger.

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Mike was psyched to get underway. This fervor and dedication is common among designated eaters, who often approach their duties as if it was the defining moment of their lives.

Now that the moment had arrived, Mike found it impossible to contain himself:

After giving him an hour or two to collect his thoughts, Mike shared some of his opinions.

“It was an average ballpark cheeseburger. I threw a little ketchup on it. I figure you’re here, you want to know the details.”

“The brat had a little bit of spice to it. It was well cooked, and so were the peppers and onions.”

“The Polish sausage is really very juicy. I sound like a third grader here. You can take the ‘really’ off. But, this meal is bringing me back to my adolescence.”

“The hot dog is like the burger, typical ballpark fare. But it’s a thick frankfurter. Not chintzy.”

“It’s all good, man. I got food. Beer, food and baseball, who could ask for anything more?”

And with that, I left Mike to enjoy the rest of his meal in peace.

048 I then turned my attention to Perro, who is a permanent fan of Minor League Baseball. MiLB Life!

051Mike, meanwhile, has since provided his own designated eater perspective. He, at the least, is a self-aware beast:

There was only way to slow down the beast, the people decided. They had to sedate it with food. They clamored to their kitchens, grilling as much meat as they could. They killed cows, chickens, and hot dogs and threw their meat on the grill. Then they garnished the servings with bread and peppers and onions. Everything a beast likes to eat.

They placed their pile of food in front of the monster. With a voracious appetite, the monster gorged on the offerings.

The beast was eventually satiated, the concession stands finally shut down for the evening. This represented my time to shine:

Bam! Nailed it! And the best thing about that joke was how original it was. No one had made it before; it is mine and mine alone.

Anyhow, that’ll do it for this rollicking trilogy of Dunedin Blue Jays blog posts. I had a great time at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium — low attendance and minimal amenities notwithstanding, it is one of my favorite places to see a game in the Florida State League.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Last Night: Dunedin Blue Jays, April 13, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my (assuredly)  triumphant return home, I will provide the full, multifaceted, pun-laden blog coverage that you have have come to know and deeply appreciate. So let’s get to it!  

April 13, 2015 — Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, home of the Dunedin Blue Jays (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays).

Opponent: Bradenton Marauders, 6:30 p.m. start time

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, from the outside: Located in a residential neighborhood, approximately 600 steps away from salt water.

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Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, from within: Intimate!

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Culinary Delight: A sampling of meat off the grill.

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Waiting for the Punch-Vine (my nightly attempt at telling an “original” ballpark joke in six seconds):

At Random: In case anyone forgot what day it was.

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Last Song Played Over the PA: The Jackson Five — “ABC”

Next Up: Jupiter Hammerheads — tonight!

4/15: Jackie Robinson Game at Dodgertown in Vero Beach

4/16: St. Lucie Mets

4/17: Brevard County Manatees

4/18: Jacksonville Suns

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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