Tuesday, March 10, 2015


On a Trip to the Suburbs

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium
Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, 2015
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Minnesota Twins vs Toronto Blue Jays
Grapefruit League (Spring Training)
Florida Auto Exchange Stadium
Dunedin, FL
1:05 PM

Outside the Game:
For the first time this trip, I had a simple, short drive, with just a half-hour separating me from the stadium. This led to a lazy morning of breakfast, then back to bed for some more sleeping uninterrupted by parents going to golf, and then finally getting up for real. I showered, packed, checked out of the hotel, and headed on my short drive to the stadium well before gates.

There was only one tiny lot that surrounded the park that was charging $25, so I ended up parking in one of the local buildings that was renting out their lots and driveways to visitors. I parked at the local VFW next to the stadium and got out to do my walk around and photography business before lining up to get into the park at gates open.

After the game, it was pretty easy to get onto the road--even with everyone pulling out of driveways and front yards for as far as the eye could see--and I had another half-hour drive down to the south tip of the northern end of Tampa Bay to meet my friend's brother-in-law for a college game that evening. But more on that below.

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium
Home plate to center field, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium started its suburban life as the more dignified Grant Field, named for a former mayor that spearheaded the construction of the stadium back in the 30s. Corporate naming conventions have stolen away that title, along with the subsequent "Dunedin Stadium at Grant Field" after the reconstruction in 1990. Regardless the name, the field is a quaint bandbox in the middle of a Florida suburb, without even a proper parking lot to call its own. Residential streets surround the park, and you can even go into a parking lot at a next-door school to peek into the back of the stadium.

Hemmed in by suburbia on all sides, the main facade of the stadium is behind home plate, with a tower jutting up from the center and holding the logos of the Blue Jays and their GCL team, the Dunedin Blue Jays. The box office is at the base of the tower, and the main entrance gate is a short distance away towards first base by the only "VIP" parking lot in the entire stadium.

The one entrance dumps out onto a windy outer promenade that runs from right to left field. It gets a bit tight behind home plate, but for the most part is a wide area to direct traffic. All the concessions, stands, and stores are built into the area under the seats, including the main team store, a "Craft Beer Dugout," the main concessions, and a row of carts. In a plaza behind third base, there is a larger open area with a second team store and "The Canadian Grill" grill concession.

The park has two seating areas separated by a smaller walkway that divides the upper seats from the boxes closer to the field. The seats run from first to third base, with small sun shades at the top of the further seats, and the press box and some luxury boxes at the top of the seats behind home plate. Nearly all the seats are molded plastic, which were both uncomfortable and difficult to navigate (since they didn't flip up). The digital scoreboard stood out in left-center field among the two-level outfield wall covered in ads and promotions, with some green palm trees mostly effectively hiding the suburbs that surround the park. A small artificial practice field lies behind third base, with the main practice facilities located about a half mile away.

The old park was filled with memorials in addition to the player banners that lined the promenade and the "road to the majors" display on the first-base side of the promenade. There were two dedication plaques for the stadium, a memorial to announcers Tom Cheek and Dave Bell, and a mysterious, faded, unreadable plaque on the third-base side of the promenade that looks to be dedicated to Eskimos? I'm not really sure, and I never got a satisfactory answer.

Ace, and random concession guy

Mascot Ace makes the trip down, and he, an entertainment team, and a concession guy (?), ran all the minor-league festivities between the innings: contests, races, and the like. The concessionaire was a giant, loud man who bellowed his way around the park selling beer and seemed to be well-known to the repeat customers.

For a weekday afternoon game, it was pretty packed, with no noticeable gaps in the seating. They were all loud and into the game, as well as the other entertainments, so good on you, Canada. Perhaps they were just excited not to be sitting through a Canadian winter right now.

At the Game with Oogie:
Hot dog and soda

There was a lot of good-natured Canadian spirit going around the place, and that started before I even got into the park. I was close to the front of the security line to get in, and a little before the gates were scheduled to open, a kid waiting ahead of me needed to use the bathroom. The staff actually let him come in and use the facilities. It seems like a little thing, but when you're used to seeing draconian law at most baseball stadiums, it is the little things that stand out.

The gates opened a full two hours before the game, so I was able to go around and do my picture- and note-taking and get my shopping done with plenty of time to spare. I grabbed a hot dog and soda for my first go-around, and then a fresh-grilled burger from the Canadian Grill to top it off. Running out of things to do and not wanting to sit in the heat for an hour before the game, I parked myself on a bench on the first-base side of the park that was still in shadow. And from there, I saw the world.
Firstly, there was a family that was going to throw out the first pitch. The youngest boy was dressed like David Bautista, even with a fake greasepaint beard. I heard them get the spiel on what to do when they came out and where to meet and off they went. A short while later, the promotions team were back with a man. Overhearing them, the guy was going to propose to his girlfriend during the game, and they were discussing the logistics of it. For a second or two, I considered tailing the guy and potentially tipping off the girlfriend, but I wasn't feeling that motivated.

Wedding plans
Matrimonial conspiracy

As I continued to wait in the shade, I was eventually approached by some visiting Twins fans who wondered if they could use the other half of the bench, to which I acquiesced. We got to talking, and they were wondering if I was a Blue Jays fan. When I told them I was a fan of neither team but just doing this to see the Grapefruit League, they were a little incredulous and wondered what line of work I was in that I had the money and time to do all this without a rooting interest. My explanation that I was doing Internet in New York seemed to be a satisfactory answer to them.

Shortly before game time, I made my way to my seat in the first few rows of the upper seats between home plate and first base. It was solidly Blue Jays territory, with a lot of funny accents along the way. In the program, there was an interesting promotion for the Hagerstown Suns. It is interesting, because Hagerstown is a Washington Nationals farm team. But what they are--and what the ad mapped out--was about half way between Toronto and Dunedin, FL. They were advertising to the Blue Jays fans who drove down to stop off on the way down or back. I wonder if it worked.
(And yes, the proposal did happen, and yes, she said "yes.")

The Game:
First pitch, Twins vs. Blue Jays

This meaningless Spring Training game had the Minnesota Twins visiting the Toronto Blue Jays in the lovely Florida hamlet of Dunedin, FL, not to be confused with the Dunedain. For whatever it was worth, the home team was the loser in a close match.

Things started quickly, with the Twins going in order in the top of the first, and Toronto had a leadoff walk and single get stranded in their half. Minnesota started the second with a homer to right to jump to a 1-0 lead, but the Blue Jays tied it up in the bottom of the inning with a fielder’s choice, passed ball, and another single, leaving it at 1-1 after two. The Twins just had a single in the top of the third, while Toronto went in order.

Minnesota got the lead again in the top of the fourth with another homer to right with one out, giving them a 2-1 advantage. The Blue Jays again came right back with a two-out double driven in by a single to tie it up at the end of four. Undeterred, the Twins scored two in the top of the fifth with a single, walk, single, and sacrifice fly, to again get a lead at 4-2. Toronto was not up to the task, and just had a bunt single in the bottom of the frame. Minnesota went in order in the sixth, while the Blue Jays got one back in the bottom of the inning with a two-out triple and double, to close it to 4-3.

The Twins struck again in the top of the seventh with a single, walk, error, and single to extend their lead to 5-3, while Toronto just had a two-out double in the bottom of the inning. Minnesota had a solitary two-out single in the eighth, while the Blue Jays scattered two singles in the bottom of the frame. Both sides were plenty tuckered out and went quietly in order in the ninth, securing the Twins’ pointless 5-3 win.

The Scorecard:
Twins vs. Blue Jays, 03-10-15. Twins "win," 5-3.Twins vs. Blue Jays, 03-10-15. Twins "win," 5-3.
Twins vs. Blue Jays, 03/10/15. Twins "win," 5-3.

The scorecard was the centerfold of the $5, full-color magazine program. The scorecard only took up about half of the spread, with the rest taken up by ads. The good news was that the scorecard was on good cardstock instead of magazine paper, so it was easy to write on in pencil. The batting lines were long, with pre-printed lineup numbers, so it was easy to accommodate a replacement. The batting lines ended with batting totals (that could double as the 12th-14th innings), and the inning columns ended with inning stats. The pitching lines were under the batting lines and next to team summary totals. The scoring frames were blank, but a little small, which made it slightly cramped for scoring.

There were only a couple of plays of note. In the bottom of the first, there was a CS 3-5, as the runner on first tried to take an extra base on a single that just got behind the first baseman. In the top of the eighth, I noted that the batter who grounded out to second managed to throw his bat into the stands (no one was hurt). Both teams also cycled out all their players, mostly in the seventh, but between the fifth and the seventh. The Blue Jays even swapped their second baseman twice, once in the sixth and once in the ninth, which made it a little crowded in that scoring space.

The Accommodations:
There was none yet, because there was one other stop to make...

On Turning Two

Turley Complex Baseball Field
Turley Complex Baseball Field, 2015

Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Thomas University Night Hawks vs Eckerd College Tritons
Sunshine State Conference, Division II (College)
Turley Complex Baseball Field
St. Petersburg, FL
6:05 PM

Outside the Game:
With one game in the books, I drove down to the campus of Eckard College, where my friend's brother-in-law was umpiring a college game that evening. As with most colleges, it took a try or two to find my way around the un-straight and labyrinthine roads across the campus, but I eventually saw a sign for the sporting complex and a parking lot for the same.

Then it was just a matter of finding the baseball field. I was tramping through some still-soggy fields, looking for the lighting rigs that always give fields’ locations away, and I eventually came upon the softball field. Some more mucking around in the dirt and mud, and I found the baseball field with time to spare.

After a spate of texts, my umpire acquaintance came out after getting dressed for the game and got me in on the guest list. We talked for a short while before he had to go off and do umpire-y things. I grabbed a snack from the clubhouse and then clamored up the home plate bleachers to the very top that was getting some shade from the press and scoring box. It also gave me something to lean against for the duration of the game.

After the game ended, I waited for my friend to get changed and showered, and we walked back to the parking area. He gave me some pointers on finding his house, and we set off for the forty-minute or so ride back to his house. Not surprisingly, he beat me there. I grabbed my stuff from the car and re-acquainted myself with my best friend's sister and her kids, as well as meeting her three dogs, who seemed to enjoy sniffing me a lot. Beagle Josie was the old mother of the group, while mutts Loki and Dodger played the slightly shy and very much not shy brothers. As a matter of fact, I don't think I saw Dodger stay still for any significant amount of time during my stay.

They got the kids off to bed, and then the brother-in-law started to put together his new giant LEGO helicarier while I caught up with my friend's sister. Eventually, I retired to their guest room and passed out for my first good sleep in a while--after I managed to chase Dodger from the room, of course.

The Stadium & Fans:
The Turley Complex Baseball field was about what you'd expect for a Division II college team. It was a nice, if nondescript, field, with dugouts on either side and a large chain-link fence rising up around the perimeter, with the exception of a hole right behind home plate, presumably for cameras or radar guns. A small digital scoreboard sat in right field among some trees, with two giant domed buildings providing the backdrop for left field. Two above-ground, chain-link dugouts gave the players somewhere to sit.

There was a large bleacher behind home plate for all the fans. At the very top was a booth, providing the only shade for the spectators. The booth was occupied by the announcer team, as well as the official scorer. Representatives from the respective dugouts ran up to the booth during the game to give information on changes, but frankly, just armed with the program, I was able to keep up with events a lot faster than they were.

There was a decent enough crowd for a mid-week college game, although no one ended up sitting anywhere near me. They were into the game and celebrated the victory. I'm not sure if they were locals, families, friends, or just college people. There was no entertainment between innings, and the game went along at a fast clip.

At the Game with Oogie:
Collegiate scoring

I spent the game perched up on the top level of the bleachers right up against the press box. I was keeping score in the Eephus League scorebook for this game, while finishing up my scorecard from the Blue Jays game earlier in the day. It kept me occupied.

There wasn't much to talk about during the game, although there were some controversial plays that affected my friend's brother-in-law, to be discussed below.

The Game:
First pitch, Night Haws vs. Tritons
First pitch, Night Hawks vs. Tritons

Ironically, this college game was the first game I saw this trip that actually meant something. The visiting Thomas University Night Hawks were playing the home Eckard College Tritons in the regional match that saw the home team come away happy.

Thomas University scattered a walk and a single in the first to no effect, while the Tritons went in order. The Night Hawks just had a walk in the top of the second, while Eckard got a run across with a leadoff single, two stolen bases, and a grounder to first, jumping to a 1-0 lead. Thomas went in order again in the top of the third, while the Tritons stranded a leadoff double.

The Night Hawks went down in order again in the top of the fourth, but Eckard got across another run, reaching on an error by the shortstop, stealing two more bases, and then coming home on a passed ball to gain a 2-0 advantage. Thomas had two singles in the top of the fifth, while the Tritons blew a threat from a reach-on-error and a single with a double play. The Night Hawks finally got on the board in the top of the sixth inning with three straight singles bringing in a run to make it 2-1. Thanks to a double play, Eckard went in order in the bottom of the inning despite a walk.

Thomas had a leadoff double in the seventh and sacrificed him over to third, but there he stayed. The Tritons had a walk and a single but left them stranded on the base paths. The Night Hawks went in order in the top the eighth despite a two-out single when the runner was caught trying to steal. Eckard tacked on some insurance runs in the bottom of the inning with a leadoff double, a sacrifice, an error on the second baseman, a balk, a groundout, and a passed ball. When the smoke cleared, they had a 4-1 lead. Thomas had their last licks and were only able to muster a one-out single, and Eckard went away with a 4-1 victory.

The Scorecard:
Night Hawks vs. Tritons, 03-10-15. Tritons win, 4-1.Night Hawks vs. Tritons, 03-10-15. Tritons win, 4-1.
Night Hawks vs. Tritons, 03/10/15. Tritons win, 4-1.

As the college didn't have scorecards of their own, I decided to use my Eephus League scorebook for this game. There were a number of odd plays in the game. There was a CS 2-5-6 after a passed ball in the bottom of the fourth. And there was a note in the top of the sixth about a potential runner interference call after the third single of the inning. Of course, my friend's brother-in-law who was calling the play made the right call--the player was running to the base and not interfering--but there was plenty of debate over the subject with the manager of the home team. There was also the rare balk in the bottom of the eighth that helped along a run.

As perhaps you might expect in a college game, there were more errors than usual, not to mention the fact that Eckard was running on Thomas' catcher like a guy trying to skip a bill, with two multiple-steals by a runner on the basepaths to get them from first to third (and both scored). Thomas swapped out a lot of players, and some more than once, which led me to make a lettered annotation for the replacement catcher who came in after a pinch hitter replaced the original catcher.

The Accommodations:
My friend's sister and her husband had a lovely house in a new development in the Apollo Beach area. The even had quite the guest room setup, with a whole bedroom and attached bath reserved for guest usage that was very much welcome at this point during my trip. I was able to settle into one place, unpack for the most part, and not worry about getting disturbed somehow in a house with two kids, three dogs, and a couple of parents. Quite the paradise.

2015 Grapefruit League

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