On the Road: Feeling at Home in Daytona
I really and truly enjoy every single place that I get to visit on these road trips. There is always something to recommend. But every once in a while I chance upon a location that resonates on a deeper level, one that makes me wish I could just relax and stay for a while.
Daytona was one of those places. I just flat-out felt comfortable here, both in the town itself as well as, more specifically, Jackie Robinson Stadium (the home of the Daytona Cubs). Perhaps I was too comfortable, in that once again I seem to have neglected my duties and failed to take exterior shots of the stadium. But here are a few shots of the interior, before the madding crowd was permitted to disrupt my photo-taking solitude.
Jackie Robinson Stadium is an iconic facility with charm to spare, and an anomaly in the Florida State League in that it does not host Major League Spring Training. This, to me, is to its infinite benefit — as opposed to an oversized and sterile Spring Training environment, Jackie Robinson evokes nothing less and nothing more than the quintessential charm of Minor League Baseball — intimate, no-frills, and eminently accessible.
But it’s also ironic, to a degree, in that the stadium got its name due to its Major League Spring Training history. In 1946, Daytona became the first city to allow Jackie Robinson to participate in a Spring Training game (he was then gearing up for a season with the International League’s Montreal Royals, one year prior to his groundbreaking campaign with the Dodgers). There’s a statue out front that commemorates this history.
The full name of the facility is now “Jackie Robinson Ballpark and Museum,” with the latter part of the equation being a self–guided tour within the concourse area. There are informational plaques galore, many of which are supplemented by displays that bring to life Robinson’s myriad athletic accomplishments.
Jackie was known for stealing home. This display (above and below) puts it in perspective.
It’s all about perspective. Jackie’s vertical leaping abilities are displayed here…
while this area pays homage to the horizontal.
At this point in the evening, the stadium gates were thrown open and the hoi polloi streamed forth. The hoi polloi, in this case, were blue-shirt wearing members of the team’s “Silver Sluggers” fan club.
The backs of their shirts should have said “apostles of baseball bingo,” because that’s what they were here for.
Jackie Robinson Ballpark is old (its first iteration dates back to 1914), and as such there isn’t much room for the staff to operate. The front offices were painfully, ludicrously cramped (I should have taken a picture), and the team store wasn’t much more than a kiosk.
That detached head on the counter is, perhaps, a homage to the club’s old logo. It featured the severed head of a too-cool-for-school bear, a bear whose origins appeared Arctic despite the Floridan environs:
But this was my favorite piece of apparel — a t-shirt commemorating outfielder Matt Sczcur and the proper pronunciation of his confounding last name.
I interviewed Sczcur before the game, and that can be found HERE. He was a real nice guy, as ballplayers — and, by extension, all humans — almost always are, and spoke with pride about the above item.
As alluded to above, the fans were streaming in at this point in the evening. And Daytona, if nothing else, has VERY committed fans. I wrote an MiLB.com story about this very subject (please read it HERE), and it featured characters such as Pat Drosten (right) and Faye Haas:
Drosten is one of 17 fans who, in 2000, got a D-Cubs tattoo in exchange for lifetime season tickets.
So did “FRJ,” otherwise known as Front Row Joe:
Front Row Joe is a ballpark celebrity, as he’s attended every D-Cubs game dating back to June of 1995. I wrote a story on him when he hit 1000 straight, and this particular evening was number 1147. It’s easy to keep track, since there’s a billboard in left-center field that does just this. Part of Joe’s pre-game routine is to walk out 20 minutes before game time and change the number. He extended the invite to accompany him, and I was more than happy to oblige.
Like Andre the Giant before him, Front Row Joe has a posse:
(Daytona really is great. I can’t wait to go back).
And, well, jeez — Joe had done his thing, the Silver Sluggers were in their seats, and it was time for the game to begin!
As this game script makes clear, the team had plans for me.
“Singing For My Supper” involved listening to the first verse of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” and then belting out the chorus as soon as the music was cut off.
Waiting for my moment:
Belting it out:
Posing victoriously with my new best friend, his head thankfully not severed.
A few innings later, I spent some time in what is a disappearing stadium phenomenon: the rooftop pressbox.
That’s media relations director Robbie Aaron on the right, who invited me to do an inning with him on the radio. (I always enjoy being on the radio, as it hearkens me back to my days with WPTS 92.1 Pittsburgh.) Afterwards, I snapped a photo of the rooftop view:
All that talking works up an appetite (not to mention the fact that I had already sang for my supper). Concession wise, Jackie Robinson Ballpark is probably more notable for its extensive drink options than the food. Beer options were measured by the dozens, and, while not photographed, I’m pretty sure that this is the only park I’ve been to that has served Jagr.
The food options were pretty standard, but this is more a result of space considerations than any sort of creative defect. I ordered pork nachos, but they were pretty lackluster. Pork and nacho cheese over chips, three quarters of which were untouched by toppings:
After eating, I went back to the second row and watched the concluding innings of the Cubs’ loss with frustrated fan FRJ.
But, win or lose, there’s always launch-a-ball. And thank goodness for that.
And thank goodness for you, whoever you may be, for reading.