March 20th 2009: Box
March 9th 2013: Box
March 18th 2016: Box
___If you’re looking for a no-frills ballpark experience that recalls the spring training facilities of yesteryear, head to sleepy Dunedin, Florida.
With a backstop lacking in traditional barriers and netting that almost resembles a chain-linked fence, watching a Blue Jays’ spring training game from behind home plate almost feels like high school baseball. The smallest park in spring training, Dunedin Stadium is truly unsurpassed in its intimacy.
The problem is Dunedin Stadium is more outdated and inadequate than charming and intimate, sometimes even lacking the most basic ingredients of a good ballpark. There’s a fine line between being “cozy and downscaled” and “bland and uninspired,” and Dunedin Stadium definitively slips into the latter territory.
The park’s score seems extreme compared to all other spring training facilities below. Indeed, 59 is nearly three standard deviations below the mean, almost meeting the statistical definition of an outlier. But looking at the ballpark’s history, that actually makes perfect sense.
Opening in 1990 (although the site dates back to 1930), the ballpark just missed the trend of super spring training complexes ushered in a year later with the Twins’ Hammond Stadium and rapidly compounded throughout Florida and Arizona during the 90s.
Moreover, during the 20-year period from opening to today, Dunedin Stadium hasn’t received substantive capital investments (the 2002 enhancement didn’t do much), when some other parks have received two generations of upgrades. Yes, Dunedin Stadium is two generations behind most other spring training ballparks. It started behind, and unlike other 90s ballparks, it has not yet had a renovation.
___Unlike nearly all of its successors, Dunedin Stadium has absolutely no architectural or aesthetic intentions inside and out. The interior aesthetics are free from any of the aesthetic flourishes or artistic touches commonly seen in spring training, and the simple concrete exterior pales in comparison to the local architecture seen throughout Florida or Arizona.
It’s last in architecture and aesthetics by a significant margin.
___This is spring training though, so an aesthetically underwhelming experience can be overcome. Dunedin Stadium really begins to slip, even for a traditionalist, when discussing its functionality.
Except for a few sections down the right field line, the ballpark notably lacks the fold down seating people have come to expect. The seats are styled after bleachers, but with backs and armrests. When fans are entering and exiting rows, the space is so confining that some fans in the row may have to exit the aisle to allow fans in and out. That’s more than a minor inconvenience for everyone. All seats also lack cupholders.
Dunedin Stadium not only lacks the open, 360-degree concourses of the best spring training parks, but also the proper space to properly navigate the footprint. The main concourse becomes a narrow hallway down the left field line, and generally lacks spatial recourse with no outfield concourse or 200-level space to hang out. The fact that the main concourse is at street level is a plus, which isn’t always the case in Florida. The sightlines are great around the infield, but the seats down the lines are not properly oriented toward the action, meaning fans will have to strain their necks toward the diamond.
State-of-the-art HD videoboards resembling those of major league ballparks have become the norm in spring training, but that’s hardly a requisite. However, not only does Dunedin Stadium lack any sort of video system, it also lacks the basic tech common in spring training facilities even 20 years ago, as the scoreboard reads “Home” and “Guest.” It doesn’t even say “Blue Jays” or “Dunedin!”
I’d say that certainly tests the boundaries of what one could consider “charming” versus just plainly inadequate and unacceptable. (Although I’m hearing “Blue Jays” was added 2018).
___Dunedin Stadium generally does a good job of importing a Blue Jays sensibility from north of the border, with plenty of team banners, plaques honoring minor league players, and Canadian beer. There’s also a prime area for autographs and interacting with players down the left field line. It’s so close Jim Leyland once accidentally wandered onto the concourse!
___To no surprise, Dunedin Stadium lacks the amenities of almost every other spring training ballpark in baseball across the board. It competes for worst ballpark food selection (with only one other contender), offering nothing but the basics and some BBQ at the Canadian Grill tent. Poutine was added in recent years. The park completely lacks the premium areas, unique seating offerings, group areas, or party decks of others. The two “suites” even lack proper décor or actual stadium seating.
The ballpark is free from the trendy social spaces and tiki bars seen throughout Florida and Arizona, but it has some bright spots. The picnic seating at the Canadian Grill is welcome. Moreover, the climate-controlled Craft Beer Dugout Lounge added in 2002 is probably Dunedin Stadium’s best feature. While outdated and confined, it’s still a nice refuge if the elements become inhospitable, presenting a series of couches, high top table seating, craft beers from Canada and Florida, and a full bar. No kids’ playground or speed pitch games here.
___Dunedin Stadium’s greatest asset is its neighborhood setting and local scene. It’s one of only two parks in Florida that could be construed as a “neighborhood ballpark.” The location comes with drawbacks—namely the lack of parking and being 20 miles off the closest interstate—but it’s a plus on the whole. Plenty of local bars and restaurants within a short walk in this quaint town. I didn’t think a “free beer with parking” promotion could fly in the 21stcentury, but Dunedin is indeed a throwback to a bygone era throughout!
Finally, I should note that these scores are relatively transferable to MLB parks, and Dunedin grades better than the Blue Jays’ home up north, which is a multi-purpose facility, and the domed Tropicana Field (and obviously the Oakland Coliseum). Dunedin Stadium is a ballpark, after all!
___I’m glad to say Dunedin is finally renovating the park for 2020 spring training, but what took so long? It’s so, so long overdue. These are major league baseball teams. It’s incredible to see one club significantly behind the others in anybroad category, and spring training facilities are a pretty significant element of baseball.
Even today, I still enjoy my outings to Dunedin, but I can’t wait for the renovations. If the town maintains the unparalleled intimacy this ballpark offers while adding both late 20thand 21st century features, Florida will have a new gem.
Likes and Dislikes
Things I like:
Things I don’t like:
I hope no Blue Jay fans take this personally. This is simply a function of the Blue Jays and Dunedin neglecting to upgrade the fan experience for such a significant period of time. My question is why. Why? Why did other spring training teams leave their homes when facilities were inadequate? Or why were other longtime city-team relationships like Clearwater-Philadelphia or Lakeland-Detroit more successful? Or did the Blue Jays even ask for enhancements? Were they loyal to Dunedin to a fault? In any case, they are now finally working on renovations. Lets hope the ballpark experience improves significantly.NEXT - Setting