Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dunedin Blue Jays 0 at Lakeland Flying Tigers 1 - June 13, 2012

After a short drive west from Cocoa into Central Florida, I stopped in Lakeland, spring home of the Detroit Tigers for 76 consecutive years and summer home of their FSL affiliate, the Lakeland Flying Tigers. The minor league team has been associated with Detroit since 1967, tying them with the Reading Phillies for the longest continuous minor league affiliation in the nation, so there is a lot of tradition and history here.

Joker Marchant Stadium

Located just south of I-4 on Lakeland Hills Blvd in what is known as Tiger Town, Joker Marchant Stadium was opened in 1966 and has undergone extensive renovations since then as spring training grew into the major attraction that it has become. Named for Lakeland's late parks and recreation director, the stadium boasts a capacity of 9,000 although you will rarely see 10% of that used during a minor league game.

Parking is free, just turn onto Kaline Drive from Lakeland Hills and you will see the large lot. Getting out is easy as well, although you can only turn right onto Lakeland Hills from Kaline, so if you need to go south, it is better to take the south exit from the parking lot.

The park itself is more like those I would expect in Arizona, with sand-coloured walls and arches throughout the entranceway and concourse. 

Tickets are either $6 for the box seats or $5 for the reserved seats (add a dollar for Saturday games) but again, it really doesn't matter so much. There is a roof that covers the top 5 rows of the upper deck. I visited on Wednesday, which happens to be all-you-can-eat day, a bargain for $10. Pizza, hot dogs, bratwurst, popcorn, and pretzels are all included for a 3-hour feast that starts an hour before first pitch. I did not partake myself but noticed that the 666 other fans in attendance were particularly quiet tonight, doubtless a combination of constantly eating and watching a very low-scoring game. In fact, they were so quiet that you could hear the buzz of the lights for the entire game.

In general, Joker Marchant Stadium is another one of those Florida State League ballparks that is used for spring training and hence far too big when the minor leaguers are in town. That is not a bad thing by any means, I love the extra space and the fact that you can pretty much sit anywhere, except the bleachers down the line which are closed to fans.

As you can see, the outer concourse is very spacious. On a regular evening, I would guess that there is only one concession stand that serves your typical fare, but on this night, there were extra stands serving the all-you-can-eat goodies, including chicken wings from a number of local restaurants.

There isn't much else here to note. There are suites on the second deck that are named after famous   Tigers, including the Cobb Suite. You can see the small box reserved for the suites in the picture below.

The left field fence is shorter than usual and may allow for some great homer-saving catches, but nothing of the sort happened in the game I witnessed. Beyond left field is a berm which seemed to be open to fans but was not being used much.

Along first base there is an extra netting for some reason that leaves only the seats above the dugout free from obstructions. This makes the third base seats a better bet, particularly when you consider that the sun shines into the first base seats for the early part of the game.

Overall, Joker Marchant is another enjoyable FSL park. I always appreciate these places where there is far more space than necessary as I can move around at ease to take pictures from a number of different angles. If you are in Central Florida and the Flying Tigers are home, make sure to stop in and say hi.

The Game

With Dunedin in town, I wore my new Blue Jays sweater to support the young kids on their way up to Toronto. I was somewhat surprised therefore to see a couple of major leaguers in the lineup: Ben Francisco on rehab and Travis Snider (above) trying to figure out his swing. There were also a number of prospects, including Marcus Knecht (3rd round, 2010), an outfielder from Toronto (below).

Egan Smith (7th round, 2009) got the start for the Jays against Shawn Teufel (25th round, 2010) for the Tigers. Both pitchers were solid, using mostly off-speed stuff to get outs, and the game moved quickly through five scoreless innings with neither team mounting a serious threat. That is Smith on the right below fielding a difficult grounder while third baseman Kevin Ahrens (16th overall, 2007) ducks out of the way.

Smith was replaced by Trystan Magnuson (56th overall, 2007),  a lanky Canadian who had a cup of coffee with Oakland last season before returning to Toronto in the off-season. Magnuson tossed a perfect frame including two strikeouts. Dayton Marze (14th round, 2010) took over in the 7th and yielded a walk but no runs.

Teufel meanwhile lasted 7 shutout innings before being lifted for Tyler Clark, who continued the mastery with a three up-three down 8th. In the bottom half, Luis Castillo hit a 2-out double off of Marze and Cale Iorg (6th round, 2007), son of ex-Blue Jay Garth, fouled off four pitches before lining a single to right to score Castillo with the first run of the game.

Bruce Rondon came on and was the first fast pitcher, throwing around 95 and quickly striking out Jake Marisnick (3rd round, 2009, below), the Jays' #3 prospect according to Baseball America. After inducing Snider to groundout, Rondon fanned Kevin Nolan (20th round, 2009) to earn his 14th save.

The game lasted just 2:15 and saw only 7 total hits, with all three of Dunedin's being doubles. This would have been a great game if I wasn't cheering for the losing team. Actually, it seems like that is the case more and more often these days.


Dunedin had already clinched the North Division's first-half title, so the loss was rather meaningless. The first half ends Thursday as the league holds its All-Star Game on Saturday in Port Charlotte, a game I plan to see.

The Flying Tigers changed their nickname from Tigers in 2007 to honour the Lakeland School of Aeronautics, which trained over 8,000 pilots during World War II, some of whom later flew with the Flying Tigers. The school was actually located at the current site of Joker Marchant Stadium. There is a party room decorated in the Flying Tigers motif that can be reserved groups of 25 or more.

Next Up

Doubleheader time today. First I'll see the Mets and Rays in interleague afternoon action before a short drive north to Clearwater where the Threshers and a rehabbing Chase Utley host the Tampa Yankees. Check back tomorrow for an update.



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