I’m almost teary-eyed as I write this. Today I got to take a look at the inside of the newly christened TD Ballpark here in Dunedin, Florida.
Why? I’ve been on the Dunedin Stadium Advisory Committee for six years. When we started, we didn’t even know if the Jays would stay in the only spring training home they ever had. They’ve been here since 1977 and they’ve become part of the fabric of our little coastal town.
The last renovation was in the 1990s and the Stadium was looking a little dog-eared. No video board, small bathrooms, it was defiantly showing its age.
I was there when the city made their desire known that we wanted the Jays to stay, when the Mayor, Julie Ward Bujalski was overwhelmingly elected based on her “Keep the Jays” agenda. I sat through meetings where all that could be said was, “negotiations are ongoing” due to confidentiality agreements. I was at the meetings showing the “blue sky” plans, environmental impact and traffic studies, I appeared before the City Commission, spoke before them voicing my support and I was there the night when all the agreements were signed. It’s been a long, hard road that is finally coming to an end.
Today was the last of the “regular” status meetings where we were allowed to go out on the office balcony overlooking the stadium. As I looked at the stadium bowl I got teary. It was quite emotional seeing it so close to being finished.
The boardwalk, which will be known as the Orange Belt, an homage to the local train line that once took the oranges from the groves that once were located where the stadium now stands to points north, is just needing a few final touches. The bar on the third base side just needs the glass windows and finishing. The open air bar at right field has its roof. Most of the new seats WITH CUPHOLDERS are in. The roof is on the new elevator, giving it a coastal design. Everything inside the concrete, the wiring the plumbing is all new. New (and more) bathrooms and concessions. Off behind the bar is the area that will have the permit any barbecue restaurant and children’s play area. The team store will be accessible from outside the stadium so that you can purchase souvenirs as gear if you’re here on a non-game day (something that wasn’t possible before.)
The capacity has gone from 5,000 to nearly 8,000 (or more-still to be determined).
I am so flabbergasted, gobsmacked and twitterpated.
I can’t believe it’s coming to an end. I’m so happy. I’m including some stills and will have a video with bits from the outside as well. I wanted to post this while I was feeling “all the feels”.
Living here in Dunedin, I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on the stadium as we anxiously await the beginning of renovations. Yesterday a dumpster was delivered near the Boxoffice, today when I drove by all the doors to the suites/press box were wide open and they looked emptied.
The funny thing was a truck pulled out of the lot full of what looked to be diamond dry or mound materials and a large box. It was manned by Jays staff and it looked like they were delivering supplies to Jack Russell Stadium only two miles away.
The Jays opening “home” game will be at Spectrum Field while the second game will be at Jack Russell.
Rumor around town is there will be an official ground breaking for the renovations in the next week or two. I’ll update as soon as I get confirmation.
If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you will know that I have been invested in the Blue Jays staying in their spring-training home of Dunedin, Florida. I live only a few blocks from the stadium and have served on the Dunedin Stadium Committee for more than four years. I have sat through numerous meetings, city meetings, hearings and spoken before city council-all so I can say:
It’s finally done!
It’s been a long road and the Jays mean a lot to the city of Duneden, this is the only spring-training home they’ve ever known-they’ve been here for 42 years. By the time this deal is done they’ll be here another 25. They’re the only team in major league baseball who hasn’t moved and they won’t be moving for a long, long time.
The city council voted last night and the county voted their approval this morning.
You can read an article outlining the details of the deal HERE and watch the city council meeting HERE.
Baseball Ross likes to say that he loves baseball because every game you watch, you see something you’ve never seen before. Today, that was seeing the sons of 3 major league stars bat, 1-2-3 in Dunedin’s line up.
Today was the final regular season game for the Threshers and Blue Jays. The Jays eliminated the Threshers on Thursday night so the last three games have been less than thrilling, shall we say. There was a reason, however, that I chose to go out in the 90* heat this afternoon to watch a game that was essentially meaningless. It was the fact that the sons of three major league players batting 1-2-3 in the order.
First up was Bo Bichette, son of Dante Bichette who played for the Angels, Brewers, Rockies, Reds and Red Sox. He was a 4 time all-star who finished 2nd in MVP voting in 1995. Dante Bichette, Jr., Bo’s older brother plays for the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees AA farm team. Bo split the season between the Lansing Lugnuts and Dunedin Jays. He had 14 home runs, 74 RBIs, 42 walks and a batting average of .362.
Second up was Cavan Biggio, son of Craig Biggio who played his entire career with the Houston Astros. He was a 7-time National League All Star and is often regarded as the best player in Astros history. Cavan, played the entire season in Dunedin and had 11 home runs, 60 RBIs and 74 walks with a .233 batting average.
Third in the order today was Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. He is the son of Vladimir Guerrero who played for the Expos, Angels, Rangers and Orioles. He was voted the American League MVP in 2004. Jr, had a rather impressive season starting with the Lansing Lugnuts before moving up to Dunedin. In total, he had 13 home runs, 76 RBIs and 76 walks with a batting average of .323. The thing that struck me the most about him is that he doesn’t “act” like a star. I’ve seen him retrieve balls and hand them to the batboy (most guys just ignore them) and I’ve seen him spent a lot of time signing autographs after a game, with a smile on his face.
It’s made for an interesting second half of the season. I’ve enjoyed watching them and plan on going down to the stadium on Tuesday to see the first game of the first round of the playoffs. It may just be the first time that three sons of three major leagues play together on a team that wins a playoff game. I’m sure Stats.inc. has someone one who knows for sure, but even if it has, it’s nothing we’ve ever seen before and that’s why we love baseball.
It’s been a crazy couple of days. Monday night was the official presentation of the Blue Jays plan to stay in Dunedin. (You can read my post about that HERE.)
I’m not one to make public speeches and I’m terrified about speaking in public, but Monday night, I could not keep silent. I spoke up and explained why keeping the Blue Jays in Dunedin is so important to me. (If you want to see my speak, you can click HERE.)
I didn’t do anything except say what was in my heart…the applause startled me. I’ve never gotten applause before. What has happened since has been amazing. Jays President Mark Shapiro thanked me personally, members of City Council…random people I didn’t know before…this morning I even got a text message from another person that I never expected, just to say thank you.
I’m astounded and thankful.
While I usually write about the Phillies, it IS important to note that Mark Shapiro noted the Jays special relationship with the Phillies in Clearwater as part of what makes Dunedin special. So this isn’t just a “Jays” issue, it’s a spring training and Florida State League issue.
So as a fan of baseball in Pinellas County, let me just say this…
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.
Hurricane Hermine’s bands of rain moved onshore here this morning. While it was obvious that’s the Threshers game against the Dunedin Blue Jays in Dunedin would be cancelled, our baseball son was still required to report to Brighthouse field.
It wasn’t too hard of a trip but Old Coachman was closed from the Complex to NE Coachman. There was a few heavy bands of rain and a few periods without rain.
I also took video driving through the area…you can watch it HERE.
Here are a few pictures of the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium where the game was to take place tonight…
Earlier today, the final game of the GCL Phillies was cancelled and it locked them in as the first place team so (weather permitting) the play off game would be held tomorrow. I sincerely doubt it will be played.
So it’s a very wet night.they have added the Clearwater area to the Tropical Storm warning area and we are also under a tornado warning tonight. Baseball Ross and I live outside the 100 year flood plain so we should be safe.