Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 19, 2017
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Go down swinging

Spring training offers plenty of sunshine and excitement for baseball fans

For me, the downside of Canadian winters isn’t traipsing through snowy sidewalks, or bundling up to keep warm in sub-zero temperatures. Nope. What wears me down is the lack of major-league baseball.

Truth is, when the world series wraps up in late fall, a tinge of sadness takes over. Being an armchair manager is an enjoyable gig for me, and frankly, I don’t like parting ways with that seasonal role.

To get that baseball fix sooner, we booked a “Spring Training” vacation in sunny Florida. No convincing was required as my husband and two young sons also enjoy the game. We are big-time Toronto Blue Jays (www.bluejays.com; look under Spring Training) fans, but also like catching other ballpark match-ups. Checking out various stadiums is simply part of the fun.

Spring training is divided into two leagues. The Grapefruit League, with teams all over Florida, and the Cactus League, with teams in Arizona. Since our beloved Toronto “boys of summer” play in Dunedin, travel plans focused on Tampa Bay (tel: 800-44-TAMPA; www.visittampabay.com) and St. Petersburg-Clearwater (tel: 877-352-3224; www.floridasbeach.com, see “hot deals” for savings).

There’s plenty to do in the St. Petersburg-Clearwater area when you’re not cheering on the Blue Jays. From golfing to award-winning beaches, the sunny destination is within minutes of many popular Florida attractions: just 30 minutes to Busch Gardens in Tampa and 90 minutes to Walt Disney World Resort, Sea World and Universal Studios in Orlando.

While many Grapefruit League teams play in the Tampa Bay and Orlando area, spring training is found all over the Sunshine State.

Jays at play

Our first stop was an afternoon game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies, the 2008 World Series champions. Dunedin Stadium (373 Douglas Avenue, Dunedin; tel: 727-733-0429/727-733-9302) is about a 25-minute drive from the Tampa Bay airport, and the park seats about 5500. Because of its size, it’s best described as an old-style minor league field. Tickets usually go on sale in December and prices range from US$15 to US$20 (regular games), to US$20 to US$27 (premium games).

“The one thing we have over other stadiums is that you can’t get any closer to the action,” says Shelby Nelson, director and general manager of Florida operations for the Toronto Blue Jays. “We have a very short foul-ball territory, and the seats are on top of the players.”

Nelson’s description couldn’t be more accurate. Fans are extremely close to the game, not to mention the glorious sunshine. There’s no shade, so don’t forget the sunscreen and sunglasses.

Game time is always 1pm, and we arrived about 15 minutes early hoping to score autographs. Turns out, we weren’t disappointed. Moments after entering, rookie outfielder Travis Snider happily posed for the camera with Matthew, our eight-year-old son. Shortly after, pitcher Jesse Litsch tossed a baseball to our seven-year-old son Jamie, who was sitting in the stands enjoying some lemonade. Caught off guard by the accessibility of the players, we made a quick run to the souvenir shop to buy baseballs, which were later signed by various players.

Be sure to bring a pen or Sharpie because player interaction is common. “We don’t make any guarantees, but the guys tend to be more accessible during spring training,” says Nelson. “The pressure is less intense, so the players [on both teams] are more receptive to signing autographs.”

On game days, the stadium opens at 11am for batting practice. The earlier you arrive, the greater your chances of chatting with players and getting autographs. The best spot for player interaction is the open area down the left-field line near the club house.

Spring training also provides fans with the opportunity to see the minor leaguers play. “Usually, the major league guys only play a couple of innings each game,” explains Nelson. “As a result, it’s a good time to see our young talent trying to make it up to the show.” (“The show” is baseball slang for the major leagues).

Joan Douglas, along with her husband John, have enjoyed several games over the past years. “We always look forward to seeing the Jays,” says Douglas, a Stratford, Ontario resident. Douglas likes being close to the action. “You can see the expressions on the players faces when they play,” she exclaims.

As for food and drink? Concessions serve typical ballpark fare like hotdogs, grilled chicken sandwiches and nachos. Labatt’s Blue is on tap for the Canadian crew.

The stadium is about three kilometres south of downtown Dunedin, home to various shops, bars and restaurants. Parking costs about US$10, and can be found in lots leading up to the ballpark. If you want to stay nearby, check out the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club (tel: 800-456-2000 ; www.innisbrookgolfresort.com) and ask for the Blue Jays Fan Rate.

Yankee doodle

The second game we took in matched up two old rivals, the New York Yankees (www.yankees.com; look under Spring Training) and the Boston Red Sox. The experience was great, but totally different from seeing the Blue Jays. While the atmosphere of Dunedin Stadium is best described as casual and laid back, Steinbrenner Field (1 Steinbrenner Drive, Tampa; tel: 813-879-2244; www.steinbrennerfield.com), the spring training home of the New York Yankees, has more of a major-league ballpark feel to it.

Centrally located in Tampa Bay, with a capacity of 10,200, it’s one of the largest and most popular stadiums in the Grapefruit League. The park, incidentally, sits directly across from Raymond James Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It was an evening game with plenty of excitement in the air. Even the parking lot was a sea of activity with several fans taking part in tailgate parties complete with barbecues. Cost for parking runs about US$10. Tickets range from US$17 to US$30 for reserved seats (Ticketmaster, tel: 800-745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com or from Steinbrenner Field).

We arrived just before game time, so scoring autographs wasn’t as easy. According to stadium staff, fans may have success if they hit the on-site practice fields two to three hours before game time. Hanging around dugouts may also bring success. While today’s superstars may be too focussed on preparing for the game, former Yankee greats like Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage are often at games and practices, and have a tendency to sign. Stadium staff also suggest hitting the practice fields in February.

The stadium was rowdy, and judging by crowd attire, both teams were well represented on the fan front. As for concessions? You won’t go hungry or thirsty at this ballpark. Apart from mainstream fare (hotdogs, beer and peanuts), plenty of stands offer an array of edible local delights. The massive souvenir shop is worth a visit.

Personal highlights include seeing New York Yankee Johnny Damon and Red Sox legend David Ortiz enjoy a friendly chat before the game. It was also fun checking out former Blue Jay pitcher A.J. Burnett in Yankee pinstripes.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

Comments

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  1. On March 22, 2010, mcts said:
    I love base ball, Its too hard to practice baseball but I love this game. Pretty interesting and loving for me

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