I grew up on baseball. The first outfit my dad bought me was a New York Mets onesie. I’ve spent almost every Father’s Day for the last 10 years at Tropicana Field. Birthday parties were planned around Little League softball games. I can track my life from spring training to the World Series. Opening Night is my New Year’s Eve.
Baseball has a way of calming me down. There’s no headache-inducing back-and-forth motion like in basketball or tennis, or grating crunch of bone against helmet like in hockey or football. It’s quiet and exhilarating all at the same time, with the soft hiss of wind as a fly ball whooshes past or the puff of red dust as a runner beats the tag at second base. There’s a sweet simplicity to baseball that never ceases to amaze me.
But it’s not all quiet. Bats break and umpires yell and fans cheer. Baseball can be loud. And I love that, too.
I love that in downtown Dunedin, at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, the fans belt the Canadian national anthem louder than the Star Spangled Banner. Emerging from the depths of Ontario and Alberta, they sing, with their Blue Jays hats clenched to their chests, about patriot love and the True North.
I love that the thermometer reads 75 degrees Fahrenheit and that the sun peeks between palm trees and that if you breathe in deeply, you can almost smell the salt from the Gulf of Mexico.
I love that for six weeks a year, near the corner of Douglas Avenue and Beltrees Street, baseball spring training makes Dunedin loud.
From just inside the Dunedin Public Library, you can tell when the Blue Jays get a hit. Faintly, but still audible above the hum of the computer, you can hear the cheers as the batter rounds first base or the runner slides across home plate in a cloud of red dirt.
The parking lot of Curtis Fundamental Elementary School, typically empty on weekends, overflows with Blue Jays bumper stickers and trunks stuffed with Little League gear for Sunday morning games. That was my family, before school and leg injuries got in the way.
Signs sprinkle the ground advertising parking costs: $15 at the front of the stadium, $10 along the side and $5 in the lot tucked quietly in the back. Old men in once-white knee socks and Gray Jays hats sit in beach chairs on the sidewalk with tickets to put on your dashboard, a lazy parking pass.
Inside, the audio system at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium blasts ringtone favorites: Gangam Style and Call Me Maybe and Harlem Shake (not my ringtone. Not anymore, at least).
The outfield wall is lined with advertisements, Budweiser at the left field foul pole, Sea Dog Brewing Co. next to the scoreboard and Lucky Dill Deli behind the right fielder.
A vendor, having claimed his territory in the blue stands behind home plate, sells peanuts and sunshine (the peanuts didn’t taste any different than the ones you can buy in a bag at Publix, but the thought was nice).
And through nine innings of not-quite-flawless baseball, the Blue Jays made Dunedin loud.
Past the stadium and the parking lots and the traffic, downtown Dunedin whispers with the hum of a spring fair. Homemade jewelry and craft beer line the sidewalks and vendors and onlookers mingle with questions of price and quality (I abstained when I couldn’t haggle the price of a bracelet down to $3).
And hidden between the trinkets and treasures, underneath a mound of mismatched earrings and scarves, peeks a faded Blue Jays hat. A Toronto maple leaf flag pin. A signed baseball from players long gone (or so the dealer told me; I didn’t recognize any of the names).
In Florida, spring means heat and mosquitoes and red tide. But it also means baseball. And that’s enough for me.