I’m crushed. Roy Halladay has always been a favorite of mine. Quiet, but always seemingly approachable. Once he was retired he lived in the Clearwater area and it wasn’t unheard of someone saying they’d seen him around town.
Last time I saw him in person was at the end of the season this year. He and his wife were at a Threshers game and I so wanted to say hi, then I saw he was hanging out with his friends and I respected his privacy so I didn’t.
I wish I had told him how much I enjoyed watching him pitch and how I appreciated what he does for the community. You see, last summer, he donated a bunch of memorabilia to the local police who have a charity softball game and auction every year. I was lucky enough to win Doc’s game used and autographed glove as well as a plaque commemorating his perfect game that was also signed.
Until I won the glove I had a “no memorabilia in the living room” rule, which promptly went out the window. I didn’t even get home from the game before I had gone out to Amazon and bought a glass case for the glove. It sits proudly on my piano with a ball he signed for me in Spring Training along will balls signed by Carlos Ruiz, Jim Bunning, Don Larson and Yogi Berra.
While I was working on this the family released a notice to public that included:
A celebration of Halladay’s life will be held Nov. 14 at 4 p.m. at Spectrum Field in Clearwater. The service is open to the public.
My prayers go out to the family and friends of a kind, hardworking guy who was taken much too soon.
Four long years. Tonight was the culmination of four years work to create a a deal that was fair and affordable that would keep the Toronto Blue Jays Spring training home here in Dunedin.
Dunedin isn’t a big city. There’s only 35,000 people in town. We don’t have high rise hotels on the beach or a shopping mall. Our beach is a state park, our “mall” is a string of mom and pop shops on a quaint Main Street. The Jays are a big part of what brings tourists into our little hamlet just north of Clearwater.
We are the only spring training home the Jays have ever had. 40 Years. Canadian fans have bought property to come here year after year to see “Canada’s Team”.
How could such a small town provide world class year round facilities?
It took 4 years of negotiations but we have a deal. Both sides gave a little, both sides walk away winners.
The city will contribute $5.6 million, the State of Florida $13.7, Pinellas County’s “Bed head tax” (a tax on hotel rooms that the revenues generated can be used ONLY for tourism projects) $46 million with the team the remaining $20 million.
We could get into the economics of the tourism that spring training brings in (more than $90 million county-wide) or how just the announcers saying “Dunedin” during spring training broadcasts is worth $5 million alone…
But having the Jays here is more than that.
It’s how most kids see their first MLB baseball game right in town, it’s how the Jays have charity bowling games in summer, or how they let the local high school baseball team play on their major league caliber fields or how the Jays help the little league have first class fields to play on.
It’s what has been termed a “40 year marriage” and tonight we renewed those vows for at least another 25 years.
It was personal for me. I found my house because I came here to go to a Phillies and Jays game and we got lost. We walked through downtown Dunedin and on to the stadium…on the way we fell in love. We’ve been here a little over five years. I’ve been on the Stadium Committee over four years having been appointed by the former mayor.
It’s been a long road. Tonight was the beginning of the end of that long road. We still have a few more steps to go, but the highest hurdle has been jumped and I am relieved.
Hurricane Irma has already caused the cancellation of the Florida State League Championship which would have been held over the weekend. Instead the 3-game semifinal will determine the co-champions-with the winner of each division being named.
So who will it be? Tampa or Dunedin and either Palm Beach or Fort Myers.
Currently, Dunedin and Tampa are tied 1 game each and the final game will be this evening (they contracted the series to be finished today.) Currently, Palm Beach won Game 1 and is winning game two. If Ft Myers does not come back it will go to Palm Beach—if they do, game 3 will be played later this evening.
Today was one of those days where nothing went as planned but turned out great in the end. I had hoped to see former Blue Jay Pat Venditte make his first appearance at Phillies camp since being traded to the Phils from the Mariners. Since he had just returned from the World Baseball Classic, we thought that he would be at the Phillies’ complex. He was not.
So I jumped in my Mini and headed back to Dunedin and to the Mattick Training Complex where the AA and AAA Phillies and Jays teams were playing. I got to the field as the Jays were taking the field in the bottom of the third inning. Just as I got behind home, the crowd rushed to the fence and when I looked up, I could see why, Josh Donaldson was about to bat.
I have to pause here to say that this was one of the coldest days of the winter. Early this morning, it was 39* F (4*C) and by now, it was in the mid 50s (12.8* C) with a very strong wind coming in from the gulf, right into our faces. It was freezing.
Donaldson took a swing……
Even into that strong headwind, there was no doubt that that ball was going to go out. There was a collective, “Ooooh” from the crowd as the ball cleared the fence and bounced out into the grass near the softball fields on the other side. It was one beautiful shot INTO the wind.
It was his last at bat of the day so I don’t know how his earlier at bats went, but let me tell you, he’s hit long homers into the wind the last two days, there is no doubt that his timing is down and he should be good to go, once he is given the green light to run again.
I never did get to see Venditte, rumor is that he was with the Phillies MLB team. Frankly, I forgot about him once I saw Donaldson hit that homer.
While I was raised in Pennsylvania, since moving to Dunedin, the spring training home of the Toronto Blue Jays, I’ve grown to have a soft spot for “Canada’s Team”. They are my favorite American League team.
A dear friend who blogs about the Jays messaged me last night saying he had heard that Josh Donaldson was going to play in a minor league game. My interest was piqued.
Here’s the thing, while the Jays were playing the Phillies, there was no way to know what team Donaldson would play for. There were 4 teams to choose from, the low A teams at the Jays’ complex and the AA and AAA teams at the Phillies. While the logical choice would think AAA, since they were playing at the Carpenter Complex, would they have Donaldson play with the A kids so that he would stay at their training facility? I took a chance and went to the AAA game at the Carpenter Complex. The Jays’ bus arrived. No Donaldson. Shucks. I debated driving the 5 miles (back) to Dunedin but since we had come in Baseball Ross’ car, I stayed. I was rewarded when they posted the line up and Donaldson was scheduled to take 3 at-bats.
I was happy, at least I was in the right place. 15 minutes before game time…no Donaldson. 5 minutes before game time…no Donaldson. Gametime? Nope. He got there (as it would seem planned) soon after the game started. He got the trainer and they took off for the Phillies indoor batting cages. He soon returned and was inserted into the line up.
Donaldson was up against the Phillies Alec Asher. He fouled a ball or two and then…I think at this point I need to say that this was one on the absolutely windiest days I’ve ever seen for a baseball game. We had some gusts of wind that made it hard for me to stand and take photos. This would come into play for the next pitch to Donaldson.
Donaldson squared up Asher’s pitch, it got caught up in the gusts to left-center, it just kept going. The Phillies outfielder stopped running and watched…it was going, going…..Then the breeze hit the side wall of Spectrum Field and it became a stiff “air-curtain”. Donaldson, who had taken one look at the ball and assumed it was gone…looked on in horror. He had already started for the dug out. He was almost through the door when he realized it hit the air-curtain and it was slowing down..this was the same time the outfielder realized it and he started running at a full speed. The ball dropped as if it hit a physical wall and dropped right along the fence! The stunned outfielder missed it and it hit the ground.
It was then that Donaldson laughed and went, “Uh-oh!” and started for first (while still holding his bat) in what could only be called a “penguin-style” waddle. Everyone one laughed.
In the article that includes an interview with Donaldson that I’ll post at the end of the blog, they incorrectly state that the ball was caught.
Donaldson went on to bat three more times but didn’t have a hit. His timing seemed good but many of the balls went foul and the wind was the cause of many of the balls going foul instead of down the line.
After he was done, he packed up immediately to leave but he took time to sign autographs…
And I got one! (I have really slowed down on collecting autographs the last year or two, in fact my goal was 2 this year, Donaldson and Bautista. I’m 50% done!)
He was even so kind to allow people to walk with him to his car and he continued to sign and take pictures with fans before he left.
When Donaldson left, the Jays were up 2-0. They were not running the scoreboards so I do not know what the final was…once Donaldson was gone, I started going back and forth between the three games that were going on at the time and lost track.
Donaldson was interviewed by the plethora of media that was in attendance and he seemed pleased with his performance. You can see coverage of the interview HERE.
I think my favorite moment and the moment that showed what a class act Donaldson is, was when Donaldson was done, he went to the player whose place in the line up he took with his at-bats and thanked him for allowing him to do so. I’ve seen a lot of major leaguers step into a minor league game to get a few plate appearances in but I’ve never seen anyone thank the player he displaced. It was a first class move.
So that was the highlight of my day…and may be of my spring training. *Sigh* I love baseball.
Thanks to the kindness of a friend, I was able to get my hands on a copy of the Blue Jays’ 2017 Minor League Spring Training roster. It’s interesting to note that as of today, it’s not divided into work groups as the Phillies do. I’ll just leave this here for you…
If you have read my blog for a while, you’ll know I was raised a Phillies fan. I can’t hide that…but it’s because of the Phillies that I found my forever home and also became a Blue Jays fan. How you ask? Before we lived here, we came down for years for Phillies spring training. We’d stay for a week or so in a hotel or rent a house for a month.
One year, the Phillies played the Blue Jays in Dunedin. We had never been there and used the GPS in my phone (this was somewhere around 2008 and the GPS in my Samsung Black Jack phone was not good) and it sent us to the practice complex on the north side of town. We looked up the stadium address and followed the GPS to downtown where we found parking and walked the five blocks down Douglas Ave to the stadium.
The town was beautiful. It’s quaint, a glimpse back in time. Little shops, then cute houses, then a place where houses were being developed, then a bar and then the stadium. The new houses were perfect, so perfect that we thought that it was a Disney-like display, so perfect no one could live there…but you could! Then we would only be a few blocks from a baseball stadium! It was that baseball game that changed our lives…while it would take a few years, we eventually built our home in Dunedin and we plan to live here the rest of our lives.
Soon after moving here, I was asked to become a member of the Dunedin Stadium Advisory Committee. I accepted and was officially appointed to the committee by the Mayor.
It’s been a nervous time. Two years ago, there was speculation that the Jays were going to move to West Palm Beach. It would devastate the local economy. I won’t go into the numbers deeply but spring training brings over 80 MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR into Pinellas County. That’s hotels, rentals, food, everything. Granted, it’s not just the Blue Jays as the Phillies are here as well as the Yankees just across the causeway. It is attractive that there are three teams within an easy 15-20 minute drive. Bradenton, Sarasota and Lakeland are just an hour away and Disney and the new Braves Complex in Kissimmee, only 90 minutes away. That many family activities makes it a vacation destination where everyone in the family can find something to love.
There’s been a legal confidentially agreement in order since they started negotiations so there was nothing anyone outside the inner circle knew for sure (not even the stadium committee was in the circle). Last night was the first time that the public was given a look at what could be in the works. If you are interested in the nearly THREE HOUR presentation you can see it on the Dunedin City Government Website HERE.
The small city council room was packed. There was also seating provided outside on the patio with a TV for those who could not get in to monitor the situation.
The meeting began with the Director of Parks and Recreation going over the selection of the location/plan. One was to use the city par 3 golf course at Sterling Links…it is big enough to have a stadium and a training complex, BUT it’s in an area surrounded by homes. It was dismissed due to the difficulty of getting those homeowners to agree to itas well as other logistical factors.
A property half a mile from where the current stadium is was considered (known locally as the Nielson property where the former location of the Neilson Ratings headquarters was located) It was not owned by the City so it would have had to been purchased…but in the time since consideration began it was sold to a developer and is now unavailable.
The next location was next to the current stadium downtown. This was a possibility, except that the town library would need to be moved and a new library built. That would add an additional 10-12 MILLION dollars to the price of the project. This made it overly expensive.
The next location was to add a stadium at the Mattick complex (next to the current training complex on Solon). There were several problems with this location. It was next to a school and did not allow for enough parking for the stadium. It is also surrounded by homes and the roads leading to it are only two lanes. They could not be widened without taking land from homeowners. While the people living around the facility are used to having games there, adding 90 foot light towers in their back yard wasn’t deemed practical especially considering all of the other limitations.
This is where a compromise was made. The Jays would not have an “all in one” facility but they would have a modern training facility located at the Mattick facility and the down town stadium would be made into a “Game Day” facility. In this way, both facilities could be improved with as little disruption to the surrounding neighborhoods.
I was incredibly impressed that Blue Jays GM Mark Shapiro flew in for the meeting.
Shapiro talked about how the Jays are the ONLY team in MLB that has spent their entire history spring training in the same place. That’s FORTY YEARS! He spoke of the good partnership with the city as well as how their fans love coming to Dunedin.
Then Director of Florida Operations Shelby Nelson showed pictures of other spring training facilities and compared them to those in Dunedin. I’ll post the pictures side by side for your comparison:
Even just a fan can see that the outside fan areas are in need of renovation, but frankly, even knowing some of the inner details of the problems with the stadium, I was shocked and embarrassed at the condition of the training facilities.
It was at this point that they gave us some PRELIMINARY renderings of what the new training complex might look like.
The biggest sacrifice with the expansion is that 3 public soft ball fields will be lost/move to another location as will Happy Tails Dog Park. With the softball fields, it is hoped that the new location (yet undecided) will allow for a fourth field making it tournament caliber. Happy Tails Dog Park was built in a drainage area and is subject to frequent flooding and will have needed to be improved/relocated in any event.
And now….the stadium! (insert trumpets blowing, angels singing)
Before I want to post the pictures of the POSSIBLE improvements, it is important to remember that these are only suggestions, ideas, no contracts have been made to design anything. These are just possibilities suggested by world renowned stadium designers Populous. (google their work, it’s amazing). Also this is a MAJOR renovation not a demolition and rebuild. Many improvements will be made around the “old bones”.
This is a nice option. as you can see there is a store with access separate from the stadium. Currently, the team store is only open during games and is situated under the stands and can only be accessed to people attending the game.
I like how the new party boxes look like beach cabanas. While their addition adds party space and a nice aesthetic, it isn’t overwhelming in scale. It fits the surrounding neighborhood of single story dwellings. A huge, Brighthouse-esque stadium would overwhelm and dominate the surrounding houses, library, school, VFW and senior center.
This picture gives you an idea how land locked the stadium will be. those white “tube” looking things are wings of the Curtis Fundamental Elementary School. The building on the top just under the Jays logo is the library. I can’t believe that they were even able to ADD parking spaces. (Ok granted Baseball Ross and I usually WALK to games).
Now the fun part….
Oh look! Berm seating in the outfield! A boardwalk! NEW VIDEO BOARD! SHADE! I repeat SHADE! Oh what’s that…a tiki bar! The amenities are great!
The Tampa Bay Times has a great flyover video HERE.
From there they went into the financial aspects…I’m not getting into that, you can read the details of the money HERE.
The timeline for completion is AGGRESSIVE with plans to be in the renovated facilities by opening day of spring training 2019. Think about that…grants have to be applied for, all the planning and construction contracts have to be open to public bidding. This is very aggressive. If they can keep to the suggested timelines it will be amazing.
Finally, they opened the floor up for public comment. Not one person objected. Members of the merchants’ association spoke, owners of the local Holiday Inn as well as other residents and finally…the Stadium Committee…Our Chairman spoke and before we all sat down…I sucked up my courage and asked to speak. I have a fear of public speaking and even just standing as a member of the committee I was worried I’d be sick…then I just couldn’t stand there and NOT say something.
I swallowed hard and told the story I recounted at the beginning of this blog, how it was because of Blue Jays baseball that I found my forever home. How after visiting just that one day, it changed my life and how we moved here. I guess it was a rather impassioned speech…and as I finished (without passing out or puking I might add) there was applause. I got applause.
ETA: If you are interested, here’s a link to my SPEECH.
The meeting ended and afterwords, GM Mark Shapiro made a point of shaking my hand and thanking me for speaking as did the Director of Florida Operations Shelby Nelson.
I just want to add for those of you you may not be familiar, the training facility is used 365 days a year and that the stadium not only is used for spring training but the Blue Jays also have a Florida State League team that plays there all season, another five to five and a half months. Three of the new fields at Mattick will also be able to be used by the public outside of spring training. The stadium also hosts events other than Jays baseball. It’s not just a lot of money that will be spent on a “gym, fields and a stadium” that will only be used one month a year. It’s very important that people know that.
So there we go. The ball is in motion. It seems that the majority if not all of the council and mayor are for the project. Now it’s up to the accountants…Nothing is set in stone but the best thing I took away from the meeting is that the city and the Jays want to work together. This is something that both sides will work for and hopefully we will all have our happy baseball ending.
I took all of the renderings from the power point presentation from last night’s meeting. I thank everyone involved in their creation. (There are additional pictures in the fly over article.)
Tonight is the second part of the presentation. At the senior center across the street from the stadium all of the people who gave presentations will be there in an informal setting where they can be approached and asked questions. I hope to be able to get some better pictures and more information.
It’s a long way from happening but I’m in it for the long haul. I’m not going to give up on the committee and will do what I can to help the project on track, even it it means just being a cheerleader at council meetings.