The St. Louis Cardinals have a strong and rich history of baseball in Florida. Starting in Bradenton, in 1923, at the all-new, purpose-built McKechnie Field, they made their way to Daytona Beach two years later to City Island Ball Park (now known as Jackie Robinson Ballpark), and stayed there until St. Petersburg came calling in 1938.
This relationship between the Cards and the Sunshine City would last for over half a century and span over two of the three historical ballparks, Waterfront Park from 1938 to 1947, and Al Lang Stadium from its opening (which is shared with the New York Yankees and eventually the New York Mets) until 1997.
This end was brought about for two reasons: the state of Al Lang Stadium - even after a rehab in 1977 - was starting to become a little lackluster, and the newly-founded Tampa Bay Rays needed a home for both spring training and their Florida State League affiliate, St. Petersburg Devil Rays.
So, the east coast city of Jupiter was happy to oblige in building a brand-new facility to accommodate them and the Montreal Expos, who had just departed from nearby West Palm Beach's Municipal Stadium; they swapped stadiums with the then-Florida Marlins in 2002, with the Expos moving to Space Coast Stadium in Viera.
Named after a local car dealership, Roger Dean Stadium plays host to not only the big clubs of the Cardinals and Marlins for spring training, but also their minor-league affiliates, the only stadium in the country with this much action.
So now, the stadium is home to four main tenants, the subject of this review being the Palm Beach Cardinals. Directly founded in 2003 by the Cardinals as the club's FSL team (and replacement to their high-A team in Virginia, the Potomac Cannons, themselves a replacement to the St. Pete Cardinals), they were champions of the Florida State League in 2005.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Seeing as minor league baseball doesn't draw nearly as many people as spring training in these parts (more on that in a moment), there aren't a lot of food stands available. What is there, though, is pretty good. On top of the typical, specials include chili cheese dogs, a local pizza chain (Costello's), and Rita's Water Ice, a place that I have extolled the virtues of on numerous occasions.
Also, this is the only stadium I've found Landshark Beer in a tall can, which is a nice, refreshing beer for a hot day like the one I experienced. Prices though, were a little high for what there was available.
The stadium is beautiful, built with a Mediterranean feel of stucco and clay typical to most newer buildings in Florida. Its proximity to Interstate 95 and Florida's Turnpike also makes it easy to get to, meaning it's about as centrally-located in the area as possible. Also, the sound and video board are clear, loud, and easy to read. There is a small berm along the 1st-base line, but it was closed the day I went, so I'm not sure if it's open during the FSL season or not; seeing as I went on a Sunday, I would presume not.
I had to dock a point in this section for a pretty big concern. There really is no general admission seating. Tickets are the same price all the way around, but you have to choose your seats beforehand. Considering the game I attended was a day game, and there's not a lot of shading available, you either have to pick a seat under the overhang (roughly from sections 204 to 209), sit in your assigned seat and deal with the brutal heat, or sit anywhere and hope the rightful owner doesn't boot you.
The brightest spot about Roger Dean Stadium is the wonderful neighborhood built around this park. Called Abacoa, it's a self-sustaining residential and commercial mecca, full of restaurants, shops, and townhouses that make leaving anywhere except for work next to pointless. It's the downtown feel in a small town, and parking at the stadium and walking around the neighborhood is more-than-worth it.
However, once you leave Abacoa, there's really nothing around except the stereotypical Florida strip malls and chains, so enjoy the sights and sounds before hopping in the car to leave for the night.
Admittedly, this is the category I knew I'd have the most trouble with, and the first time I've had trouble quantifying my decision in all my reviews. I was only able to stay for most of the day game of a doubleheader, so I'm giving benefit of the doubt an extra point. At first pitch, there were 25 people there (myself included), 10 of them being scouts; I know this because I counted them one by one. A few more trickled in, but by the time I left, there were no more than 100.
I blame this on four factors, three of which are out of the team's control: it was an unscheduled twi-night doubleheader to make up for a rainout two days prior, sharing the stadium with another FSL team - meaning there are almost no off-days for the park and the fans - makes the games a tad less-special, and the temperature that day was about 95˚ with no real breeze and not a cloud in the sky. If the team did more to shade the stands, though, this might have helped draw more people in.
I can see that place having a few thousand in attendance on a really beautiful night, but unless something can be done to mitigate the effects of the intense heat - like cool stations with umbrellas or water misters - day games will probably not draw as many as, quite frankly, they should.
The ones that did show, though, weren't that well-versed in baseball at all. I'm not sure if they even knew they were at a baseball game, to be honest, as listening to them talk (like one guy questioning who was the parent team of the opponent that day, the Dunedin Blue Jays ...umm, maybe the Toronto Blue Jays...? Just a hunch....) almost made me question everything I was doing and walk out. I'm sure the real fans come out when it gets cooler, though.
The concourse is pretty large, with plenty of room to walk around at all times. Granted, you have to go up into the bowl in all places, meaning get used to steps (or the elevator), but otherwise, it's more-than-functional. The bathrooms, while not many, are huge and clean.
The brightest point, though, is the parking - it's free! There are lots in a garage across the street, there are spots on the street, and there are grassy fields for the really big games. Parking is impossible NOT to find.
$8.50 ($6.50 for kids and seniors) for a pseudo-general admission ticket is a little pricey, especially since the seat right behind home plate is the same price as the bleacher seat way down the 3rd-base line, none of which are open game. If it were true general admission (changing seats with the sun, for example), then it'd be worth it, but as it stands right now, I'd be reluctant to pay that much again.
It's a better bargain, though, if you buy season tickets: one team (the Cardinals or the Marlins' farm team, the Jupiter Hammerheads) is worth $175 for 70 games - $2.50 a game - or if you're really committed, you can buy both teams (140 games) for $215 - $1.53 for each match. If you're committed, it's all-of-a-sudden worth it again.
The nice thing about having two teams share a park (as mentioned in the "Return on Investment" section) is there's never an off day, meaning if you want some baseball, you're almost guaranteed to be in-luck, save the FSL All-Star Break and the very rare mutual off-day. The baseball lover in me loves that prospect more than anything, since looking at the schedule wouldn't be about whether there is a game, but who the home team is that day.
To entice people to come, almost every day there's a different promotion to draw the crowds: Mondays are Movie Nights with a kids' movie playing on the screen after the game, Tuesdays are Buy One Get One nights, Wednesdays are Silver Slugger Nights for seniors who are part of the Silver Sluggers club, Thursdays are Thirsty Thursdays with $2 soda and domestic draughts, and Sundays are Family Sundays where kids gets in free. Fridays and Saturdays have random promotions depending on the week.
There's another, extra-special extra that I found by accident since the team doesn't seem to promote it anymore. Hidden behind a closed food cart along a wall by the first-base bathrooms was a set of bricks built into the wall with a plaque at the top. Apparently, each brick represented an original season ticket holder from the first season of Roger Dean Stadium, with an inscription of which team the tickets were purchased for: St. Louis or Montreal.
That's right, there is still a facility in the United States that has Montreal Expos insignia in (relatively) plain sight. Though the Expos are both long-gone from the park, le Stade Olympique, and the current record books, it's quite a pity this piece of nostalgia and history is hidden like a relic or build blemish, not displayed proudly for all to see.
And as is custom with me when a Major League player is spotted, this game's rehab assignment was provided by the Blue Jays starting pitcher, Dustin McGowan.
There is a lot of history and pride in the Cardinals' franchise: being the National League team with the most World Series wins and one of the oldest franchises in baseball, they deserve all of the finest things. They went to St. Petersburg for that reason, and they left for Jupiter again with that same thought in mind. They were given a world-class facility for their spring training (and eventually minor league) operations. And, along with everything else in the Treasure Coast's celeb-epicenter of Jupiter, the neighborhood is flawless.
The problem is, though, that all things age and what was state-of-the-art in 1998 is no longer the case. I believe better heat control and pricing structures would help bring in the true baseball fans, the one that will always spend the money to come, and not just the casual fan trying to find something to do once in a while.
Don't get me wrong, it's a good stadium and you won't be disappointed in going, but it's time to up the ante before, like Al Lang Stadium has by Major League Baseball, "The Dean" gets left behind by the powers that be.
Same place that the Jupiter Hammerheads play, but with less enthusiastic fans. Not much else to say here.
Best Birthday Party ever
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