Tampa Bay has been the home of professional baseball for almost 100 years, with the Chicago Cubs coming to Tampa for spring training in 1913, and both the St. Louis Browns and the St. Petersburg Saints independent team starting their St. Pete operations one year later, in 1914. Since those two Major League teams and that groundbreaking minor league team, more than 25 teams, 18 of them as spring-only MLB tenants (a third of which - the most in one stadium in Florida — played at Al Lang Stadium in St. Pete), have made the Bay Area home.
Surprisingly, the minor league team with the longest one-stadium tenure in the region is currently the Dunedin Blue Jays. With the parent team in Toronto playing every year of their existence — since 1977 — in Dunedin, the "baby" Jays originally came into being in 1978, but folded in 1979 after the parent club turned their attention to higher-ranked minor league teams. The team returned in 1987 after an outpouring of support from the residents of Dunedin wanted summer ball back in their town. Originally playing at Grant Field on the same spot of the current park, the reincarnated Single-A Blue Jays proved to be quite popular, prompting the city to rebuild the 60-year old, 3,400-seater into the current park that can be seen today.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There really are a lot of choices for a small, minor league park. Granted, they only have two food areas open, the main concession stand near the entrance and a tented area near the team store called the "Canadian Grill". The choices range from the staples to surprisingly-good pizza from a local chain, Jet's Pizza, pulled pork, and barbeque chicken breasts, along with sausages and all the fixings.
When people ask about my favorite beer choices, I tell them I'm a NAFTA drinker: Mexican (Dos Equis), American (Yuengling & Shiner), and Canadian (LaBatt's Blue). This, so far, has been the only sporting event in the South I've been able to find the last on that above list - being a team with a Canadian parent helps, I'm sure - so, since most stadiums serve the same bland choices, it's refreshing to have a long-time favorite of mine readily available.
My biggest issue, despite all the praise, is the price of everything. I had, throughout the night, a slice of pepperoni pizza, fries, a LaBatt's, and an ice cream sandwich. Including $3 in tips, my twenty was gone. The food was quite good, but I could go to Tropicana Field for about the same price.
Bless their hearts for trying. Granted, a lot of people probably did go to the Trop (or sit at home and watch) instead of coming here that night, but the announcer did everything he could to get the anemic crowd (more on them in a moment) involved and excited in...well, anything.
The biggest thing they do well is having a promotion every night of the week:
- Mondays: All You Can Eat Barbeque night
- Tuesdays: Buy One Get One Free and $1 popcorn night
- Wednesdays: $1 Hot Dog Night
- Thursdays: Thirsty Thursdays ($1 beer/soda)
- Fridays: Facebook Fridays (whatever that means)
- Saturdays (the night I went): Kids' Saturdays, with a bunch of kid-friendly activities and every available mascot they could find, including the Clearwater Threshers' Phinley, Jet's Pizza's mascot (an Italian chef/Rocketeer hybrid), and the Tampa Bay Lightning's Thunderbug to compliment their own DJ the Blue Jay.
- Sundays: Kids and dogs get in free
They also have "LaunchABall", which involves a tire and tennis balls. The rules are simple: buy a tennis ball for $1 (or 6 for $5), they roll the tire off the pitcher's mound, and wherever it lands, throw the ball in it. If anyone's ball stays in said tire, they win money. The night I went, the pot was $225 in cold, hard cash. No surprise, but since tennis balls bounce on dirt a little better than a baseball, no one won. Better luck next time!
Downtown Dunedin's Main Street, which houses the vast majority of entertainment and food options, is a quick drive north up Douglas Ave, and even walkable if you park downtown and walk back later. The park itself is located in a residential neighborhood (most of which, during spring training, will open their driveways and front yards to parking - for a price), next to the city library, and a few small establishments.
If that's not your thing, you're less than a ten-minute drive from the best beach in America - as voted on by Dr. Beach in 2008 - Caladesi Island State Park on Causeway Boulevard in Dunedin. And if you're looking for a more-secluded beach, head about 20 minutes north to Tarpon Springs and Fred Howard Beach. And while you're there, check out the amazing Greek cuisine at the Sponge Docks.
Well, there's not too much to say here: they really didn't show. I know I won't expect sellouts, or even half-capacities, during the minor league circuit, especially in Florida, where all the teams' close proximity to both one another and two major league teams basically destroy any chance for growth above and beyond the most-loyal municipal cheerleaders and relocated fans of northern teams these teams feed - as evidenced by the amount of people there cheering for the Tampa Yankees that night.
However, no more than about 500 (I'd be shocked if there were more) just shows a general apathy toward the minors in these parts. I'm taking into account the Rays were, after all, in-town that night, as well as the Orlando Magic starting Game 1 of the playoffs at home, so I'm sure those two things helped make it an empty park. I hope they prove me wrong the next time I go.
Very easy to get to and to find (Douglas Avenue is the secondary north-south thoroughfare out of downtown, the main being Alternate US 19 to the west), FAE Stadium offers free parking immediately next to the stadium and easy ingress/egress. The main concourse, while all outside, is very wide and easily navigable and the bathrooms, while nothing fancy, are quite clean and well-maintained.
Tickets are $6 and it's all general admission, meaning those $150+ seats at the Trop right behind home plate are yours for 4% of the price - if you get there first. There's really no complaint on whether it's a good value when you put it like that. Plus, you never know who you'll see playing on a rehab assignment. Unfortunately, there were no big names to make a cameo that night, but that doesn't mean if, god-forbid, someone gets injured that they don't spend a night (or three) in Dunedin, and wouldn't you be glad to say you spent $6 to see them?
These are mainly repeats from above, but worth reiterating: $6 general admission, free parking, promos around-the-clock, a feel-good barbeque with a Canadian attitude, and the close proximity to downtown and the beaches.
Everyone knows going into minor league baseball, especially Single-A ball, not to expect the flashy incarnation of America's Pastime that's seen on TV every night from April to October; this is much different. This is gritty, no-frills, back-to-basics baseball, and Dunedin's Florida Auto Exchange Stadium delivers that perfectly.
What it lacks in glitter and refinement it makes up for in charm and character. It may only be 21-years old, but it aged much better than some of its contemporaries (like Ed Smith Stadium before the renovation) and isn't needing a major overhaul anytime soon.
It's a perfect example of what I expect on my summer-long trip to all the Florida State League parks: down-and-dirty baseball, just the way "Bull Durham" portrayed it. If they're all like this, it's gonna be a great summer!
Haven't seen a minor league game here in years but try to make it for spring training at least once a year. This is another ballpark that's very plain on the surface but grows on you. It's older, it's not much to look at but it has character. But the best part is if you go to a Blue Jays spring training game, it's within walking distance of downtown Dunedin and its restaurants & bars. For a 1:00 game, I recommend going early, parking off Main St., then pregaming at either Dunedin Brewery or Flanagan's Irish Pub (which is home of the local chapter of the Glasgow Celtic FC supporters club). Then walk down Douglas Ave. to the ballpark, then walk back to Main St. after for a postgame meal at one of the restaurants or drinks at one of the bars.
The stadium is located in the southwest corner of the community, on Douglas Road just north of Union. Hard to believe that this is the place where the Bosettis, Barfields, Bells, and Bautistas played every March.
Grant Field was built in 1930 and the current structure was constructed in 1990, although the field itself was not replaced. A couple of renovations have taken place since then but you wouldn't know it as the park is old and it shows. This is not a bad thing by any means, it is refreshing to see a ballpark that keeps things simple.
Parking is free and dangerous as foul balls regularly enter the lot behind home plate - there's even a sign that mentions you might win a prize if you car is dinged. You might want to park down the right field line if you are concerned about damage to your vehicle.
Tickets are $6 for general admission. The stadium is relatively small with a seating capacity of just 5,510 but crowds here rarely get over 1,000 as Dunedin is last in the league in attendance. The best place to sit is in the top few rows along the baselines which are protected by the sun by a roof. Note that there is netting along the top of the dugouts which ruins the view from the seats down low, giving you another reason to move up.
There is very little here to talk about as the Jays haven't bothered with anything beyond the ballpark; concessions are typical and acceptable. Wednesday is dollar day with dogs, chips, and sodas going for a buck.
There were a few banners with current Jays and a tribute to Tom Cheek, longtime Blue Jays announcer, on the wall just inside the main gate. As well, there was a list of Dunedin players who had made the show.
This is the purest baseball spot in the Florida State League, with nary a distraction to take your attention away from the game.
937 Douglas Ave
Dunedin, FL 34698
1 Causeway Blvd
Dunedin, FL 34698
1700 Sunset Dr
Tarpon Springs, FL 34689
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