Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
The Toronto Blue Jays have been affiliated with the city of Dunedin, Florida since the inception of the franchise in 1977. For many Jays fans, going to Dunedin to take in spring training every March has become a tradition. However, it looks as though that may be changing.
Reports surfacing over the past few days have suggested that the Blue Jays are looking for a new home for their spring training complex. Where and when that may happen is still uncertain, but according to this article from Tampa Bay Online, team officials have said that they need to "keep up with the Joneses," but that in a perfect world they would be able to stay in Dunedin.
This raises the question: What's so imperfect about Dunedin? Let's take a look.
The Blue Jays and their class-A affiliate (the Dunedin Blue Jays) play spring training and regular season games, respectively, out of the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. The stadium opened in 1990, and was built on the same land as the old Grant Field (built in 1930), where the Jays played their first spring training game in 1977. The new stadium cost the city $2.4 million to build, and increased seating capacity from 3,417 to 5,509, but the clubhouses and the playing field itself were not changed.
The Jays signed a fifteen year agreement to stay in Dunedin in March 2000, agreeing with the city of Dunedin and Pinellas County to spend $12 million on renovations. Thus far, the clubhouse, weight room, training room, office space, restrooms, and grandstand have been renovated.
The stadium has a reputation as being bare-bones and lacking in amenities despite these recent renovations. It's also relatively far from the minor league complex, as you can see in this map.
The minor league complex isn't the only thing it's far from, either. As you can see on this map, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is also a bit of a distance away from other Grapefruit League ballparks. The only stadiums that can be reached in less than an hour are the Phillies' Bright House Field and the Yankees' George Steinbrenner Field. The Jays are hardly isolated in Dunedin, but being closer to some other facilities could be one of the upsides to moving, both for fans who want to visit other teams and for the players.
The Dunedin Blue Jays are owned by the Toronto Blue Jays, so finding a new Florida State League home wouldn't be a terribly complex issue as the parent club can decide to move where new ballpark is. However, there are other concerns with the minor league team: they have the lowest average attendance of any team in the FSL along with the lowest attendance overall, getting an average of only 830 people to each game and only 53,091 overall in 2012 (you can see the attendance of every FSL team here), and it's not as though the team had a bad season in 2012: they won the FSL North division with a record of 78-55. The small size of Dunedin's population is a factor in attendance, though: at 35,000, Dunedin has one of the smallest populations of any city with a spring training complex.
So, where would the Blue Jays move, if it comes to that? There have been suggestions that they could share a stadium with the Astros, Nationals, or Mets while they build a new stadium in Fort Myers, Naples, or elsewhere. Fort Myers and Naples seem to make the most sense for the team, though: many Ontario snowbirds are already there, and a number of other major league teams have their spring training facilities in those cities (the Twins and Red Sox are already in Fort Myers area, and the Rays aren't far off in Port Charlotte).
The Jays will spend the next year looking for a new location, and that will be followed by a couple years of paperwork and approvals for a new stadium, but it will be an interesting story to keep an eye on in the meantime.