On the Road: An All-Access Pass in Dunedin

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 Dunedin Blue Jays (this is Part One) 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.

The Dunedin Blue Jays are the lowest-attended team in full-season Minor League Baseball’s lowest-attended league. I attended a game there on a Monday — Minor League Baseball’s lowest-attended day.

Therefore, I was really psyched to be there!

019 No, really, I was — and not just because it was “Ben Hill Night.”

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I was psyched to attend this game because I truly love these sort of environments, as teams operating on the margins of the industry are prone to be more creative with their promotions and, in general, a loose anything-goes sort of vibe prevails. Sparsely attended games within older stadiums in smaller markets are, strangely enough, when the ballpark atmosphere seems most alive to me. Eccentric characters are easier to find; connections are easier to make.

So, yeah: While it’s always great to visit shiny new ballparks with all the amenities — your Charlottes, your Nashvilles, your El Pasos — it is perhaps even greater to  spend time in the lesser-known locales as well. I don’t just feel obligated to visit the likes of Bakersfield, Kannapolis, Beloit and Dunedin. I genuinely want to.

As for the D-Jays’ home Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, built in 1990, you have no excuse not to visit. Last season, the team became the first in Minor League Baseball to offer the Universal Rain Check (an initiative first advocated for within this blog).

I wrote an article about the Universal Rain Check for MiLB.com; below please find a relevant excerpt:

Baseball history was made in Dunedin, Florida on July 19, 2014, as the first Universal Rain Check was redeemed.

A “Universal Rain Check” might initially sound like a strange concept, but it is just what its name implies: Fans may redeem a ticket from any rained-out Minor League Baseball game for a game at the Dunedin Blue Jays’ home of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Whether that ticket is from the Vancouver Canadians (located some 3,200 miles away) or the nearby Clearwater Threshers, the fan in possession of it is assured of complimentary admission.

The Universal Rain Check is the brainchild of D-Jays director of marketing and social media Nate Kurant, who was inspired to implement the program after going on a Minor League road trip with a friend.

“In 2013, we went from Charleston to Savannah to Jacksonville; we went north and then came back south,” said Kurant. “And every day there was about a 70 percent chance of rain. And like most traveling Minor League fans — if it rains and that’s your day in the city, that’s it. I came back, and the idea met opportunity here in Dunedin. We have a few seats available.”

Okay, maybe not this many seats available, but let’s just say that sellouts are few and far between.

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Still confused by how the Universal Rain Check works? Don’t dismay — I, along with D-Jays director of marketing and social media Nate Kurant, filmed a dramatic re-enactment. (You might have to turn the volume up a little bit, as my voice didn’t project all that well through the plexi-glass.)

Bibliophiles visiting the Dunedin Blue Jays should make sure to strike up conversation with box office employee Jack Whitaker, who is an English major. When not selling tickets, he’s reading books such as Foucault’s Discipline  and Punish.

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I wish that I had had more time to explore the town of Dunedin, as by all accounts it is a very picturesque location. But that was my Foucault, as I had had to rush to the ballpark after visiting Minor League Baseball headquarters in St. Petersburg earlier in the afternoon. That visit, among other things, produced this brilliant Vine video filmed under the patient direction of Minor League Baseball director of communications Jeff Lantz

Anyhow, my “exploration” of the area surrounding Florida Auto Exchange Stadium was limited to taking a picture of the VFW across the street.

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This is indicative of the of the extent to which the stadium is sandwiched within a quiet, almost entirely residential area. An elementary school is located beyond the left field fence, while a library can be found beyond right.

And just beyond these trees, approximately 600 feet from the stadium, lies a saltwater beach. (Or at least that’s what I was told.)

026Within the stadium, there’s a wide open concourse.

023And, because anything less would be uncivilized, a wide-open field.

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Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, which I prefer to refer to as Sunshine State Car Swap Field, is also the Spring Training home of the Toronto Blue Jays. (“Last month this place was crawling with Canadians,” Kurant told me). Signifiers of this recurring March residency can be found everywhere.

028 The likes of president Paul Beeston and general manager Alex Anthopoulos have their own offices here.

034But with none of the bigwigs on hand to cramp my style, I pretty much had free reign of the place.

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My free reign continued throughout the evening, and a most enjoyable evening it was. Stay tuned for part two of this Dunedin Blue Jays saga, in which I throw out a stellar first pitch, witness a kid insult his grandfather, fail at making a deal and much, much more.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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