I arrived in Tampa on Monday and stayed in Clearwater, just off highway 19. It's about a 20 minute drive to Dunedin and I went to games on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Dunedin Stadium is a charmingly old-fashioned place. I grew up in London and the experience reminded me a lot of being at Labatt Park, watching my brother's team play when I was a teenager. Also, the way it's nestled in a residential area and has seats behind the back stop and along the baselines, but not in the outfield is also Labatt Park-esque.
Labatt Park is much nicer, though.
I sat in the first row near the Braves' dugout on Tuesday and this was my view.
I yelled, " Allons-y, Coltrane." And I suspect Martin heard it.
I also trash talked on behalf of Martin.
Biagini throws a few wild pitches that get passed Martin, and a run scores. At the end of that inning, some guy yells, "That's on you, Russ."
He yells it like 1. It's not Spring Training 2. There is no such thing as a wild pitch.
I softly say, "Yeah, I heard your mom has been on Russ, too."
Later, Martin catches a borderline pitch that's called a strike. Some Braves fan says, "The catcher pulled that in, Blue. He doesn't even believe it's a strike."
"That's his job," I said acidly. It was loud enough to hear, because a few people chuckled.
Martin also took his helmet off at one point, and the crowd around me gasped. For real.
"I was not expecting that," said the lady behind me. "Are those dreads?"
"No," I said. "Those are curls. And they are glorious."
Also, Donadlson made his spring debut.
I made a water ad:
This tweet became ironic on Saturday when Donaldson checked out of the game with cramping due to dehydration.
Wednesday, I sat on the other side, near the Jays' dugout. Everyone hit a homer, including these two.
I was close enough to see Russell Martin grooving to Devon Travis' walk up song:
I sat near a dad and his two kids, a boy about seven and a girl about four or five. The little boy, Peter, wore a full uniform and managed to collect a seemingly endless number of baseballs. He knew names and stats.
He showed Pete Walker his two-seam fastball and Walker taught him a four seam fastball. And then said, "Next, you can worry about spin rate."
That's pretty damn funny, Pete Walker.
In general, the pitches were louder, the swings were harder. And the players were so, so close.
I thought to myself that this place is glorious. I don't want to live in Florida, but I would live sitting behind that backstop.
My Sour Experience
I had planned to drive to Sarasota but I had a roaring headache in the morning (something to do with a weather pressure thing, I think). I wanted to stay near my hotel in case my head exploded. I had been getting my tickets on Stubhub the day of and tickets were a bit of a drag that day. I'd never been to the training facility in Dunedin and I'd heard that you could just go and look at it, that fans did that and it wasn't a huge thing.
The training facility is right next to a public park, with a dog park, a separate baseball field, playground equipment, as well as a public school. The training facility parking lot is private, so I parked near the playground and just wandered around the parameter of the whole thing.
No one was out on the field or anything so I just wandered around the back field and around. I was wondering if there was a way to see anything. This man stopped me on the driveway near the front entrance and said,
"What are you doing?"
"Just walking and taking a look."
"This is private property."
"Ok." I said. And thought, "So much for looking." I sat down on benches near the street and faced away from the building and got out my phone, to figure out my next move, where I would go instead.
A couple rode up on bicycles and talked to the man. They rode away and he said to me, "THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"
"I'm just sitting here on the park bench in the sun. What's the problem?"
"THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY. YOU CAN'T SIT HERE. IF YOU HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE BLUE JAYS, YOU HAVE TO LEAVE. IT'S PRIVATE PROPERTY."
I don't usually get yelled at and told to leave for doing nothing. Had I been trying to sneak into the parking lot or on the field, I'd get it a little more. But I wasn't. Feelings of outrage bubbled up as I stomped away, biting my tongue so I wouldn't yell "LAND OF THE FREE? IT'S A PARK BENCH, ASSHOLE." I didn't want to get arrested in a foreign country.
It's just the latest interaction I've had with people who work for the Blue Jays that has left a sour taste in my mouth. The headache, combined with this interaction and the fact that I was kicking myself for not going to Sarasota, especially since Vlad Jr. went 4 for 5 in his debut. I tried to not let it cloud my trip, but it did.
So maybe avoid The Bobby Mattick Training Center.
I came, I watched baseball, went to Whole Foods for roasted almonds and water (where I saw Mark Shapiro in the parking lot), I got yelled at for sitting on a bench and then I flew home.
And I met Keegan Matheson. His beard turns red in the sun.