On the Road: A Model Ballpark in Tampa

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 Tampa Yankees (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.

Steinbrenner Field, home of the Tampa Yankees, is modeled after Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. On the day I attended a game in Tampa, a model ballpark could be found within this model ballpark.

Get a Lego this!

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I already wrote a little bit about this over on MiLB.com:

A Lego replica of the 19-year-old facility, created by Mark Staffa of the Greater Florida Lego Users Group, [was] displayed on the concourse during Tampa’s first four home games of the season. Though Staffa wasn’t in attendance at [April 12’s] game, a handy fact sheet provided by the team included the following information:

• The Steinbrenner Field replica took approximately 10 months to design, using approximately 40,000 pieces.

• More than 800 mini-figures are included within the replica. Players, concession workers and fans (including a number of Star Wars Stormtroopers) are interspersed throughout.

• All of the outfield signage and scoreboard references Lego-related items. Among these are Octan (a fictional gas station brand featured in Lego sets), Brick Journal Magazine (a resource for Lego enthusiasts) and the Greater Florida Lego Users Group (GFLUG) of which Staffa is a part.

Yes, note the Stormtroopers:

IMG_0882Bullpen and bleachers:

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A peek over the roof:

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As for the real thing? It’s cavernous.

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Steinbrenner Field seats over 11,000 people, making it one of the most capacitous ballparks in all of Minor League Baseball. (Yes, I know, “capacitous” is not actually a word.) Sellouts are a regular Spring Training occurrence, but near impossible to come by within a Florida State League context. Tampa Yankees general manager Vance Smith told me that July 4th generally brings the biggest crowd of the year (in the five or six thousand range), and that the only time that the Tampa Yankees sold the place out was May 18, 2007. Roger Clemens was on the mound that night, as he worked his way back to the Majors for the final time.

There were no rehabbing superstars on the afternoon in which I was in attendance. Just a bunch of young guys, all of whom seemed to take their stretching pretty seriously.

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In my longstanding role as self-righteous jerk, I delight in pointing out spelling errors on stadium signage.

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As for the Tampa Yankees’ mascot, his name would be pretty hard to misspell. Meet Blue, whose Tampa Yankees jersey only partially covers his distended red baseball belly. He’s the one on the right.

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Blue mascot + blue skies = a bluetiful day for a ballgame in Tampa.

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With the game underway, Smith and I walked down to the  (Bright House Networks) Dugout Club. This group area has — surprise! — a Yankee Stadium kind of ambiance.

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The Dugout Club, located directly behind home plate, is, not surprisingly, a very popular place to be in Spring Training. It is available to rent year-round.

But this is the real dugout club right here. Professional players, spending time in their preferred environment.

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I would soon join the Dugout Club in a different form, by competing in a frozen t-shirt contest held atop it. My opponent was one Brian Cochrane, who, earlier in the day, had ably served as my Steinbrenner Field designated eater. You’ll see a lot more of him in the next post in this series.

Tampa Yankees Frozen T-Shirt Contest, A Drama in Five Parts

Awaiting

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Unfolding

050A Violent Unthawing

051Donning

053Defeat

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At least Blue was there to console me afterwards, via this understated dance to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”

I also spent a couple of innings talking to Dee and Mark Salmon, devoted season ticket holders and Tampa Yankee booster parents. They were very friendly, as booster parents inevitably are.

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In the course of conversation I learned that their son-in-law, Matias, is a magician in New York City. I’m going to try to get to a show one of these days.

In the waning innings of the ballgame, the sky turned ominous. A thunderstorm, so common in Florida, seemed imminent.

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But, no, we were spared. After the Lakeland Tigers put the finishing touches on a 4-2 win, a handful of kids ran the bases as Dick’s Sporting Goods coupons were distributed at the exits. The Boss, through it all, remained stoic amid the palms.

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In the exciting conclusion of this Tampa Yankees, designated eater Brian Cochrane goes wild at the T-Yanks’ pre-game “Taste of South Tampa” food fest. Stay tuned.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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