Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Daytona Cubs at Brevard County Manatees - June 12, 2012

The Florida State League is one of two affiliated minor leagues with all teams in the same state (the California League is the other). Moreover, all but one of the stadiums in this league is used during spring training making them attractions in their own right. With ballparks so close together, a road trip is very easy to plan. So when I saw that the Blue Jays would be playing in the Marlins' new stadium this summer, I decided to add all 12 ballparks of the FSL to the road trip. Since I was driving down from Jacksonville (the only Florida town with a minor league team outside the FSL), I decided to start my journey in Brevard County, home of the Manatees.

Space Coast Stadium

Brevard County is on the east coast of Florida and includes Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, hence the nickname Space Coast, which is applied to the stadium as well. Built in 1994 in a successful attempt to become the newly-formed Florida Marlins' spring training facility, the ballpark became the spring home of the Montreal Expos when Jeffrey Loria sold the team. When the Expos moved to Washington, Space Coast Stadium was repainted in Nationals' colors and is now one of the more visited ballparks in the Grapefruit League with the likes of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg plying their trade in March.

The ballpark is located in Viera, one of many towns in the area. More famous spots include Cocoa Beach and Melbourne, so there is a substantial population from which to draw fans. However, with spring training the main attraction for one month a year, the minor leagues get short shrift once their season begins, which means that the stadium is essentially empty when the Manatees take the field. Tickets here are $7 and you can sit anywhere as long as the seat doesn't have a yellow sticker indicating that it is reserved for a season ticket holder.

Parking is also free and can be a bit confusing for a newcomer. Take gate 5 along Stadium Parkway and drive around the practice fields to park at the back. As you walk to the stadium, you will notice a miniature space shuttle and a statue of Casey of "Casey at the Bat" fame. There is a small pond here as well and the scenic beauty is worth a few minutes of wandering.

Inside the park is a large concourse with one concession stand that offers typical fare at average prices. Avoid this and instead make your way to the small drinks stand where Sal the bartender will happily pour you a draft beer for $2. This price is only good up until first pitch, after which it will cost you $7 to imbibe, so naturally Sal is a busy man in the hour before the game. Even then, he will be happy to talk to you about anything under the sun, as will many of his patrons. Definitely stop by here to add some local colour to your visit.

The seating bowl is huge and offers great sightlines from anywhere, particularly the lower rows behind the dugout. In the upper rows you can sit under a roof should it start to rain and these seats give you a nice view of the surrounding area. Foul ball hunters will love the bench seats down the lines.

There are signs saying no umbrellas but you can safely ignore them for these games. Even the Manatees' bullpen had one!

Keep in mind that the stadium is used to handling 5,000 or more fans during the spring, so when 800 show up for a minor league game, much of the stadium is shut down and things are much more relaxed than they would be when the big leaguers are in town. Fans here are wonderful, cheering and chatting with each other, simply enjoying the evening.

There is little else to note here, which is how I like it. The clock above the outfield wall also shows the temperature, Jackie Robinson's 42 is on the outfield fence, and kids can run from centerfield after the bottom of the 5th inning.

Although nearly 20 years old, Space Coast Stadium appears brand new, likely due to a large number of improvements that have been recently implemented. It is a great place to see up-and-coming baseball stars and for me, a welcome return to the Florida State League.

The Game

Despite being the spring training home of Washington, Brevard County is the High Class A affiliate of Milwaukee. The Daytona Cubs were visiting (no points for guessing who their parent club is). This was a rather messy affair with 3 errors, 4 hit batsmen, 2 wild pitches and a balk for good measure. Both teams scored a pair in the second but Daytona kept their offense going, adding another in the third before breaking things open in the fourth.

In that frame, Chad Noble (37th round, 2010) led off with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly from Arismendy Alcantara. Ronald Torreyes then reached when Manatees' first baseman Mike Walker (14th, 2010) dropped a throw from short. Nelson Perez and Greg Rohan (21st, 2009) followed with singles that plated another run before Rubi Silva added another on the second sac fly of the inning. John Andreoli (27th, 2011) singled home Rohan and Daytona was up 7-2.

Brevard County added one in the 8th when Shea Vucinich (20th, 2010) doubled and Joey Paciorek (15th round in 2007 and son of Jim, that's him below in an earlier AB) was hit by a pitch. Michael Reed (5th, 2011) singled in a run but that was all they could muster.

Perez restored the 5-run margin with a leadoff homer in the 9th (below) to garner player of the game honours and make the final 8-3 Cubs. The game took 2:45 and with the 6:35 start time, allowed me to get back to the hotel in time for the second half of the opening game of the NBA Finals.


There was a brief shower that was foretold by a front line passing over the field. Baseball in Florida is quite interesting for weather watchers as well.

I'm including the round and year for those players who were drafted; players without a designation are non-drafted free agents.

Next Up

I'm driving about 90 minutes west to Lakeland to see the Flying Tigers host Dunedin tonight. Go Jays!



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