On the Road: Dealing 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 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.

As mentioned in Part One of this ongoing saga, I had the good fortune of visiting the Dunedin Blue Jays on “Ben Hill Night.”

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And when it’s Ben Hill Night, you can bet your top, middle and bottom dollar on the fact that Ben Hill will throw out a first pitch. I’d say that this was one of my better efforts, but I always put in a good effort. It’s just the results that tend to differ.

It’s pretty much impossible to see, but I’d like to note that the scoreboard announced my presence with the graphic “Huge Celebrity Ben Hill.” It’s either that or “manic calamity,” which might be more accurate.

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After my first pitch came the National Anthem. Note, in this photo, the D-Jays’ version of the CN Tower located just past the third base line. They don’t call Dunedin “Lil Toronto” for nothing.

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It’s a long road from Lil Toronto to Big Toronto, but some hardy souls have made it. Many others have perished, as if they were unwilling Cormac McCarthy protagonists.

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For reasons I can’t quite recall, my own road soon led to the team’s promo room.

“I’ve been here for four years, and I don’t think I’ve seen any of this stuff used,” said D-Jays director of marketing and social media Nate Kurant. “Maybe we shot the rubber chicken at something long ago.”

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I also had the privilege of trying on a pair of “drunk goggles,” which make everything appear blurred and distorted. (Wearing them is akin to the sensation produced by watching Fox News.) These goggles, in conjunction with a dizzy bat race, would be lethal. It makes me sick just thinking about it.

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Maybe they sell team logo drunk goggles in the team store? I neglected to check, although I appreciated the thoughtful placement of a full-length dressing mirror from afar. Also, I hope that whoever left their beer outside remembered to pick it up on the way out. Or maybe they were Dundrinkin?

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There was a somnambulant aura throughout the ballpark on this evening. Maybe the denizens of Lil Toronto were at home watching the Blue Jays home opener? (As shown on the TV above the concession stand.)

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Or maybe we don’t look need to look any further than the fact that it was a weekday game. The worst kind of weekday game, in fact.

038DJ says “Who loves ya, baby?”

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It was a sleepy atmosphere, but an exceedingly pleasant one. Fun Fact! The fans depicted in this photo are none other than Florida State League president Ken Carson and his wife, Lillian. The Carsons are based in Dunedin — he was the Blue Jays’ director of Florida operations from 1986 through 2006 — but we ended up crossing paths again in both Vero Beach and St. Lucie as they did their own league tour.

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For some reason I decided to film a between-inning trivia contest emceed by Nate. I’m glad that I did because this kid, he has issues with his grandfather’s living habits. I also like that DJ just happens to be in the background, posing for pictures, just winging it.

That wasn’t the end of the between-inning hijinks, as Nate asked me to be a contestant in a “Let’s Make A Deal” competition behind the dugout. But who would I compete against? He soon decided to ask this young woman, who was sitting by herself behind home plate.

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Success! (They had just high-fived, she wasn’t shooing him away.)

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While we were waiting for our moment in the spotlight, a foul ball was hit behind us and then bounced down to the aisle. No one — literally, no one — made a move for it so I reluctantly got up and grabbed it. (I mean, usually I’d be all about getting a ball, but in when I’m in Ben’s Biz mode it seems kind of tacky).

Meanwhile, my soon-to-be-opponent was probably counting down the seconds until she could return to her baseball-watching solitude. Her name was Ashley; a California resident in town to visit a friend.

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Finally, it was showtime. Ashley was presented with a strip of 10 Florida lottery tickets and given the option: Did she want to keep them, or opt to choose a mystery prize from one of three bags?

059 Ashley, being a cautious sort, opted to keep the tickets. I now had the option to choose from one of three bags.

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Since some dude was yelling “Two!” really loudly, I figured that would be the best choice. That dude — and by extension, me — was wrong. In said bag was this:

Bag on head, I walked off dejectedly (man, I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve written that sentence).

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But wait! I was soon handed a consolation strip of five lotto tickets, which quickly made me into something in life that I’ve always aspired to be: A winner. A gosh danged winner.

UPDATE! Yeah, I got that paper:

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Anyhow, there was now nothing left to do but soak in a little bit more of that soothing “Monday night in Lil Toronto” atmosphere.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” says Nate. “I’m unprepared.”

I passed the time by writing down snippets of overheard dialogue, including but not limited to:

“I met a woman last night. She hated birds and she hated black toilets.”

“Human faces should be faces and they should not be morphed.”

Unfortunately, Salute to Human Faces Night is not part of the team’s promo schedule. I checked:

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And, hey — look! Number 11 is at bat with a 1-1 count and one out. SCOREBOARD YAHTZEE

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Finally, I conducted an interview with 10 year old “ball rat” Dylan Snyder, a regular presence at the ballpark who has become quite skilled at snagging the leather spheroid.

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In this exclusive audio segment, Dylan discusses his policy as regards giving his baseballs to other fans. It’s hilarious. LISTEN:

That’ll do it from Dunedin, at least until part three of this series appears shortly. And, yes, before anyone complains, I know that Dunedin is not actually referred to as “Lil Toronto.” Thanks for reading this far, and apologies for not taking the time to visit the nearby Wal-Mart where Daniel Norris used to camp out in his RV. Such an effort would no doubt have landed me my first Pulitzer, but I opted for dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings instead. I usually do.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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