Happy Saturday! The Blue Jays game against the Red Sox’s split squad this afternoon will be televised on Sportsnet starting at 1 pm Eastern. Fair warning: you will be watching the Boston broadcast of the game so you might want to consider tuning in via radio instead.
It’s a two-and-a-half hour drive from Dunedin down to JetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers so we can expect to see a bunch of taxi squad guys in addition to the non-roster invitees and the few major leaguers who drew the short straw to make the trip. I have never been to JetBlue Park, but it was built with the same field dimensions as Fenway Park in Boston to help newcomers to the team to get used to the quirks of their home ballpark, which is a pretty dang smart thing to do if you think about it.
Trent Thornton (my adoptive Blue Jay) starts, with Nate Pearson expected to follow. On the other side is another fireballing Nate: Nathan Eovaldi starts for the Red Sox. Kevin Pillar is with Boston’s other split squad in Clearwater this afternoon.
Earlier this week I caught a game at the newly-renovated TD Ballpark in Dunedin along with Kate Stanwick and another friend. I had lost my phone (dropped it down waterfalls) so I’m unable to share photos but I can certainly say that I was impressed by what they did.
The old literal hole-in-a-wall gift shop was turned into extra bathrooms and a new larger and brighter shop was added in a new part of the building. The bathrooms at the park was always an issue but now there is much greater capacity and are modernized (I noticed that each urinal was numbered and has its own QR code sticker for maintenance records—for those who are interested, I used the ones numbered after Cavan Biggio and Danny Jansen). There is now a large concession area with barbecues, Muskoka chairs, and beanbag toss games down the left field line where the old turf diamond used to sit. Eddie’s, the new air-conditioned indoor bar in left field, features a number of beers from the Dunedin area as well as black-and-white photos of the Dunedin Blue Jays and of spring training from the ‘70s and ‘80s. There is also a brand new videoboard as well as speakers all around the stadium that blast music pre- and post-game and the radio broadcast during the game.
The best update to the stadium is the “Orange Trail”, a decidedly not-orange (it is actually concrete-grey) pathway around the outfield, which was inaccessible to fans prior to the renovations. TD Ballpark has its own version of the WestJet Flight Deck where fans can have standing views over the right-centrefield wall as well as close access to cold beverages from the outfield bar. While the Orange Trail still lacks its own character, its long and slithering nature would make for a good place for a Toronto and Dunedin Blue Jays Walk of Fame. The path also brings fans right on top of the home and visitors’ bullpens, allowing people to heckle or yell words of encouragement to relievers.
Knowing how construction projects usually turn out, I am just happy that the work was completed on time for spring training. One of the few negatives I can point out is that the place—especially the outfield experience—still felt a little incomplete. Perhaps there are a few more things like pictures, plaques, or statues the Blue Jays plan to add in the future. Overall, I think the powers that be did a great job at modernizing and expanding the stadium without losing its neighbourhood ballpark feel of the spring training fields of yesteryear. It does not have the tiki bars of the Phillies’ park or the glam of a Fenway replica, but it wouldn’t feel right if it had glitz.