Adventures in Dunedin, Part I

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  (Go Green!  Go Orange!)  Hope you celebrate like the Red Sox, if not the Mets.

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During the weekend of March 8th-9th, I took my first trip down to Blue Jays Spring Training.  It was a brief trip, dropping in for a pair of Toronto home games at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

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My host, Dunedin broadcaster Tyler Murray.

I slept on one of Tyler’s couches while I was there; he was on the other couch, with both bedrooms occupied.  It was a full house of Blue Jays employees.  It was also located just a block or so away from the ballpark.

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Automobiles! Canadian and American flags! Clearly, this must be Florida Auto Exchange Stadium (formerly Dunedin Stadium and Knology Park).

Each day’s travel was just an easy walk to the park.  The weather on my first full day in town was a balmy 60ish degrees, with gray skies and a whipping wind.  (Hence, I’m going to only use pics of my second day… which featured 70 degrees and blue skies.)

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Look at that gorgeous sky!

Fans around me did an awful lot of complaining that first day, and with good reason.  It was cold — cold for Florida, that is.   Many of them had not come prepared; they were in shorts and t-shirts, and this was long-pants and long-sleeves weather.

But I was coming in from Lansing, where the temps had been consistently below zero.  50-60 degrees?  All day, baby.

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Dunedin’s stadium is a fascinating place.  A vast majority of it appears to be your textbook minor league baseball stadium, with fun touches to connect the Florida atmosphere to the Canadian parent club.  But down the right field line, the Blue Jays have a gorgeous front office setup, split between Toronto Blue Jays staff and Dunedin Blue Jays staff.  All of this overlooks a large bullpen/clubhouse area.  I was impressed.

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Behold, the entrance to the Blue Jays’ front office, down the right field side.

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Upon walking into the front office, this catches your eye.

During batting practice, I caught up with former Lugnuts Ryan Goins, Kevin Pillar, Kenny Wilson, and A.J. Jimenez, all of whom were with the Major League Jays squad.  Ryan was very serious and quiet, a change from his garrulous Lugnuts persona.  (I wonder if he’ll become much more talkative and energetic the more comfortable he gets in the Major Leagues.  Right now, he’s awfully tense in competing for the starting 2B spot.)  Kevin was as nice as ever, A.J. gave me a huge hug, and Kenny was as personable as ever.

The gates opened and the fans streamed in.

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I spent that first game bouncing between the Toronto and Tampa Bay radio booths, neither of which was on the air.  (The Blue Jays were simulcasting the TV/radio broadcasts with TV voice Buck Martinez and radio voice Jerry Howarth working in tandem.  The Rays weren’t calling the game.)

Let me tell you, it’s fascinating to hear the insights of, say, Toronto’s Mike Wilner and Joe Siddall and Tampa Bay’s Neil Solondz when they’re casually watching and commenting on the game rather than when they’re on the air.  Talking on the air changes so much:  your tone of voice, your diction, your energy, your focus, and more.

Off the air, you’re unleashed.  You don’t have to watch every pitch.  You can keep your eye on, say, how the left fielder is reacting, rather than watching the pitcher wind up and throw.  Every person watches baseball differently, and those different perspectives can produce gold.

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Captured in this picture: many, many different perspectives.

Siddall and Wilner examined everything, from pitch sequence to defensive alignment to offensive plan.  In one exemplary sequence, with the bases loaded, a single to right field scored a run.  Right fielder Jose Bautista could have pegged a throw toward the plate or the cutoff man or second base… but instead, he fired accurately to third base, where the runner had rounded a bit too far.  In a flash, an RBI single turned into an out.  No one in the press box had ever seen a play of the like before.

A discussion erupted between Siddall and Wilner:  Why did Bautista throw to third?  Was it a mistake that turned out right?  Did he somehow have an inkling that the runner would go too far — and how?  What could he have seen before he let the ball go?

After the game, Wilner went down to the field and asked Jose Bautista specifically about the play.  Jose’s response, if I’m remembering it right, was that he wanted to make sure that the runner at second base didn’t advance toward third.

To me, that’s the ideal postgame interview question.  It touches on a key moment in the game, and it gives you (the listener/the broadcaster/etc.) information that you did not have until it was answered.

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The view from just outside Tyler’s window, with the not-so-distant stadium lights visible in the setting sun.

The Blue Jays lost the game to Tampa Bay, 6-3.  The next day, things would be much happier, plus I would have the opportunity to catch up with even more former Lugnuts.

A lot more.

To be continued in Part II…

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