Dunedin Stadium – Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training
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Given the Grapefruit League’s long-standing presence in the greater Tampa Bay area, it is not surprising that even the northern suburb of Dunedin has a lengthy baseball history. Dunedin’s Grant Field opened in 1930 and was the spring training home for the Blue Jays from their inaugural year of 1977 through 1989. Then, at the site of Grant Field, Dunedin Stadium rose up in 1990, and a couple of corporate namings and renovations later, the 5,509-seat Florida Auto Exchange Stadium still hosts the spring training activities of the Toronto Blue Jays, as well as their minor A-League Dunedin Blue Jays (and some local high school teams). Beginning the 2018 season, the stadium name has reverted back to Dunedin Stadium.
While its suburban location causes some access problems, it is a solid park that provides one of the lowest cost outings in the Grapefruit League with an experience enhanced by great fans and staff.
Food & Beverage 3
Regular concession stands are in the outer promenade, serving up ballpark standards of hot dogs, burgers, and chicken, while newer favorites such as sausage and pizza are also available. A grill on the first base side serves these up fresh-grilled, and the “Canadian Grill” in left does the same, also adding in brats, sausage, and pulled pork sandwiches. The selection is pretty standard, but the quality is good, and the prices are quite reasonable, with all the food items running $7.50 and under.
The regular beer concessions offer up bottles ($7.50) and drafts ($6.75) of Bud/Bud Light, Corona, Labatts, and Landshark. Sea Dog has a stand on the third base side serving up their wares at $7.75, a small Tiki stand a short distance away delivers Margaritas for $8.50. But the place for drinks is the Craft Beer Dugout on the third base side. It offers twelve types of craft beers, with nine more on tap, for just $7.75 each. Wine is available for the same price and high balls will run you $8.50.
The stadium experience is a mixed bag. Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is structurally similar to most Grapefruit League parks, with the two seating areas separated by a narrow walkway and luxury suites and a press box behind home plate. A promenade runs around the outside of the park, where all the concessions live. Unlike other parks that have a uniformly wide and airy promenade, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium’s walkway gets narrow in places, and the ambiance is more concrete bunker than ballpark (negatively evoking parts of the parent stadium, Rogers Centre, in the Great White North). There is no seating or access to the outfield, outside of the small half practice field in left.
While most Grapefruit League parks have some access to the practice fields before you enter the park, that small half-field is the only practice field at the park, and it can only sort of be viewed from the neighboring school parking lot. The main practice fields are all further east.
Autograph seekers should try for seats by the home first base dugout, and the doors open a fan friendly two and half hours before the start of the game (three hours for season ticket holders). Shade is thankfully available for the top rows of the reserved seats along first and third. Otherwise, you’ll need a luxury box to escape the sun (or rain).
Mascot “Ace” makes the long trip down from Ontario and interacts with fans for the duration of the game and helps lead the between-innings entertainment. In addition to the fan team, the concessionaires get into the fun, and that is what the experience is despite some shortcomings of the physical location: fun.
Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is clearly one of the “suburban” stadiums in the Grapefruit League, closed in on three sides by a Christian primary school, a local library, and a VFW post. But while most suburban stadiums are generally surrounded with “the best the mall has to offer,” Dunedin surprisingly has a lot of local food and drink options, especially just to the north in downtown. The Dunedin Smokehouse, Bon Appetit, Cafe Alfresco, the Salty Dawg, and local favorite Kelly’s are all good eat options, while the Living Room, Dunedin Brewery, 7venth Sun Brewery, and Flanagan’s Irish Pub will help whet your whistle.
Home Plate on the Trail is literally across the street from the stadium, and Marguerite’s and Tom Yum Thai are down the street from the park if you don’t want something closer.
Most of the hotels in the area are to the north of the stadium at the beach, where you can find chains Best Western, Holiday Inn, and Advantus, in addition to smaller stops such as the Seaside Artisan Motel, Amberlee Motel, Beso Del Sol, and the Dunedin Cove Motel. A little to the south are a Comfort Suites, the Flamingo Motel, and the Pleasant Inn Motel. More choices are available to the south in Clearwater and along route 19 to the east.
There are a number of small attractions and museums downtown, but the highlight of the area is Caldesi State Park, across the water from the park, but accessible only through the causeway that runs through Clearwater to the south. Those looking to make a day of it can find hotels, restaurants, and aquariums galore on the island. All of Tampa’s attractions are a short drive east, and an hour and a half east will lead you to all Orlando can provide.
And, of course, there are no less than four other Grapefruit League parks within an hour’s drive.
Given one of the longest commutes in the Grapefruit League (and the only one that crosses an international border), Blue Jay fans make a more than respectable showing at spring training. There are large crowds, even during the week, and all the fans seem to be there to have fun and watch some baseball.
The Canadian fans live up to the stereotype of friendliness and politeness, and at one game between the Blue Jays and the Twins, there was perhaps the most well-behaved and family friendly trash talk ever witnessed at a ball game in history. This friendliness extends to the staff and vendors, who are all accommodating, pleasant, and willing to engage the patrons and help wherever they can.
This is where the suburban locale hurts the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium experience the most. County Roads 580 and 576 will get you close to the local streets to the park from the west, and 595 will get you close from downtown or the south, but if you are heading anywhere afield from the park, it is a hike. You have to get to state roads 19 or 60 to get to I-275 and 4. It is a bit of a slog, especially with either local rush hour and the inevitable beach traffic once you get to route 60 in Clearwater. St. Petersburg and Tampa are about a half hour away, and Orlando is just under two hours away to the east. Tampa International is the closest airport to get you to the area from great distances.
Parking is a bit of a toss-up. At the park, you have the choice of forking out $15 to park in the limited spaces on the stadium grounds, but selling parking spaces is apparently a growth industry around the park. Most businesses and locales around the park rent out their lots for about $10 (give your money to the VFW post across the street if you can), and even homeowners will rent out their driveways for the game (check for the hand-made signs). For the extremely thrifty, another option is the free municipal parking lots downtown and take the mile or so walk to the park.
Once in the park, however, things improve somewhat. The seating bowl walkway is narrow, but generally sufficient, and a wider exterior promenade provides access to all the concessions, yet even it gets narrowed up in places. The seats themselves are another issue. Unlike every other Grapefruit park that has standard flip-up seats, all the reserved seats in Florida Auto Exchange Stadium are fixed in place. This makes getting in and out of the seating rows (especially if others are in their seats) extremely difficult.
Return on Investment 5
Seating at the stadium is straightforward. Box seats are by the field, reserved seats are above those, baseline bleachers are out in right, and the luxury boxes are above everything else. Seats range from $17-$25 for regular games and $24-$32 for “Premium” games. Even the higher pricing is relatively cheap for the league.
Food and drink prices are all under $10, and way under if you exclude drinks. It is simply one of the most affordable parks in the Grapefruit League. The only ding is that the limited on-site parking is the most expensive in the league, but it is easily overcome by using any of the other parking options available.
A $5 program (with handy lyrics for both the US and Canadian national anthems) is on sale at program stands, as well as the two team stores on the third base side and by the Canadian Grill concession. Player banners hang from the rafters in the outer concourse, along with an eclectic array of commemorations. Stadium dedication plaques are by home plate and first and a “Road to the Show” exhibit celebrates those players who made it from the low minors to the majors.
Other memorials to broadcasters Tom Cheek and Dave Bell can be found, in addition to a worn-down memorial apparently to Native Americans, but the plaque itself is now unreadable.
The park gets an extra point for its outstanding staff, who are unfailingly friendly and helpful.
Great fans and staff, thrifty prices, and solid concessions help Florida Auto Exchange Stadium overcome some access and facilities issues that would otherwise hold it back. It is a great choice for spring training ballpark chasers.
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