Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bradenton Marauders 5 at Dunedin Blue Jays 3 - June 27, 2012


Another camp day awaited me on Wednesday morning but first I had to make the three-hour drive from Fort Myers. The winds from Tropical Storm Debby had subsided and so the Sunshine Skyway was open and I arrived at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium ten minutes before the 11 am first pitch.

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium



For Blue Jay fans growing up in the 1980s, before the days of the internet and 24-hour sports news, Grant Field was always a mysterious place, whence the players suddenly appeared every spring. For those of us still in winter's throes in Ottawa, Dunedin seemed about a million miles away, a dot on a map in some place called Florida where snow was just a rumour.



Fast forward to 2012 and the world is a bit different. Spring training is big business and every player is analyzed from his draft day onward. There is no mystery for savvy fans any more. But Grant Field retains an aura from that bygone day, despite a renovation in 1990 and a recent naming rights agreement with a Dunedin car dealership.



Dunedin is a small town in the Tampa Bay area, just north of Clearwater. The stadium is located in the southwest corner of the community, on Douglas Road just north of Union. There are no nearby highways; you have to navigate the small surface streets to get there and it takes time from I-275. It really seems surreal as you approach: is this the place where the Bosettis, Barfields, Bells, and Bautistas played every March? Yes, it is.

Grant Field was built in 1930 and the current structure was constructed in 1990, although the field itself was not replaced. A couple of renovations have taken place since then but you wouldn't know it as the park is old and it shows. This is not a bad thing by any means, after visiting so many new stadiums on this trip, it is refreshing to see a ballpark that keeps things simple.



Parking is free and dangerous as foul balls regularly enter the lot behind home plate - there's even a sign that mentions you might win a prize if you car is dinged. You might want to park down the right field line if you are concerned about damage to your vehicle.



Tickets are $6 for general admission. The stadium is relatively small with a seating capacity of just 5,510 but crowds here rarely get over 1,000 as Dunedin is last in the league in attendance. The best place to sit is in the top few rows along the baselines which are protected by the sun by a roof, as you can see below. Note that there is netting along the top of the dugouts which ruins the view from the seats down low, giving you another reason to move up.



There is very little here to talk about as the Jays haven't bothered with anything beyond the ballpark; concessions are typical and acceptable. Wednesday is dollar day with dogs, chips, and sodas going for a buck.



There were a few banners with current Jays (above) and a tribute to Tom Cheek, longtime Blue Jays announcer, on the wall just inside the main gate. As well, there was a list of Dunedin players who had made the show.



About the only other thing worth noting is that the final words of the Canadian National Anthem were played on occasion during the game, for no apparent reason. Otherwise, this is the purest baseball spot in the Florida State League, with nary a distraction to take your attention away from the game.

The Game



The Bradenton Marauders were in town and MLB.com's #5 prospect and the second overall draft pick in 2010, Jameson Taillon, got the start for the visitors. A tall righty, the scouting report indicated a high ERA in early innings before settling down and he was true to form today.



Jake Marisnick (3rd round in 2009, above) homered to lead off the first for Dunedin and Jack Murphy (31st, 2009, not the stadium in San Diego) added a 2-run shot in the second. Taillon then settled down, giving up just a single and two walks in his next three frames before being replaced by Jason Townsend (31st, 2010).

Meanwhile, the Marauders manufactured four runs off Jays' starter Marcus Walden (9th, 2007) in the fourth. With Mel Rojas Jr. (3rd, 2010) on first, Alex Dickerson (3rd, 2011) lined to second. Rojas was dead to rights but the throw from Ryan Schimpf (5th, 2009) was wild and Rojas scooted to second. After a second out that should have ended the inning, Bradenton hit three consecutive singles, including two that were weak infield grounders. Two runs scored and then Junior Sosa (no relation to Sammy) doubled home two more on a ball that Michael Crouse (16th, 2008) dove for, caught and then dropped as he hit the ground. Despite the error, all the runs were earned as Bradenton took a 4-3 lead.

They added another run in the sixth while Townsend completed three innings of relief, yielding a couple of harmless walks before Doug Salinas came on to pitch a perfect ninth for the save.



The Blue Jays were held hitless for the final 6 innings and struck out 12 times in a game that went far too quickly. I would love to spend a season here sometime, it is just a great place for Toronto baseball fans.

Notes

I was happy to have to chance to see Taillon, whose stats so far are nothing special and who wasn't overly impressive, although his fastball did hit 96. Giving up runs early is not an tendency I would want in my star pitcher and it will be interesting to see how he improves as he works his way up the ladder.

As I tour these minor league ballparks, I notice players with better stats who aren't on any top prospect lists. I defer to those with baseball knowledge but wonder why results are not as important as technique, size, etc when scouting. This is essentially the Moneyball premise. For a more relevant example, compare the college stats of UCLA teammates Trevor Bauer, drafted 3rd overall by Arizona in 2011, and Gerrit Cole, taken 1st by Pittsburgh the same year. Bauer is making his MLB debut tonight while Cole just got promoted to AA from Bradenton. I even saw Cole pitch back in 2010, and thought he needed to mature. Obviously it's still early days for these two, but the more minor league teams I see, the clearer it becomes that scouts give too much credit to attributes other than the actual results.



The Marauders shortstop was Gift Ngoepe who is trying to be the first South African to make the majors. He played at the 2009 WBC, hitting a pair of triples of one time major league Elmer Dessens. MiLB.com has a good article on his path to Bradenton.

Jim Dietrich, another Stadium Journey correspondent who is based in Tampa Bay, joined me for the last few innings and a post-game lunch at the Original Hooters in Clearwater. It is always good to meet fellow sports travellers and his Florida reviews on SJ have been very helpful on this trip. Thanks Jim!

Dunedin is named for Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh. There is even a Highland Games every year.

Next Up

I'm in Tampa and getting ready to head over to Steinbrenner Field where the Yankees are hosting the Manatees of Brevard County. Then tomorrow I'm returning to the east coast to visit the 12th and final FSL park with Dunedin visiting Daytona. Check back both days for updates.

Best,

Sean

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