DUNEDIN — The Toronto Blue Jays bid farewell to TD Ballpark on May 24 as the team dropped a 14-8, 11-inning decision to the visiting Tampa Bay Rays.
The Jays played the first 21 home games of the 2021 regular season at their recently refurbished spring training stadium after COVID-19 restricted travel across the border between the U.S. and Canada.
And while the club might be happy to be headed to its Triple-A home in Buffalo, New York, after losing its last six contests — including several slugfests at the Douglas Avenue stadium — many fans were sad to see them leave.
“It’s awesome to have Major League Baseball games in Dunedin,” Safety Harbor resident Steven Zanetos said as he watched the weekday matinee with a few friends from the outfield concourse. “I love the air conditioning (at Tropicana Field), don’t get me wrong, and of course you don’t have to worry about rain. But watching a game outdoors is better. It just is. It’s just nice to watch baseball outside.”
“It’s awesome,” Zanetos’ buddy, Roger Chatleain of Clearwater, added. “I’m a football guy but I would watch a lot more baseball if they played here all the time.”
That was a sentiment heard throughout the Jays’ two-month run at TD Ballpark, which underwent a $100 million renovation prior to the start of the COVID-shortened 2020 Grapefruit League season.
As teams with large fanbases, including the Rays, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves, shared the socially distanced seats with cardboard cutouts of Jays fans throughout the homestand, many said they enjoyed the intimate setting and personal interactions with the players that come with playing in a minor league park.
“This is the sixth or seventh game we’ve come to, and we don’t want them to go back to Buffalo!” said Dan Sullivan, who lives near the ballpark. “This stadium is incredible, and the fan interaction with the players is awesome.”
To prove his point, Sullivan’s friend, Anthony Vildostegui, had his son, E.J., show a ball the 9-year-old received from Rays superstar Randy Arozarena between innings.
“He asked for a ball and Randy threw him one, but it fell short,” Vildostegui of Indian Rocks Beach said. “So, before the next inning he tossed him another one and he caught it, and this one was signed.”
During the previous series against the Red Sox, Dunedin resident John Harrison was thrilled to have retrieved a home run ball hit by Sox slugger J.D. Martinez while enjoying a night out with his wife.
“We took the three kids last night, but it was mama’s turn tonight,” Harrison said as held the ball he came away with following a brief scrum. “And tonight, I was in the right place at the right time!”
Outside the stadium, the additional home games proved to be a blessing for the folks at the SPC Zachary L. Shannon Memorial VFW Post on the corner of Douglas Avenue and Beltrees Street.
According to Commander Frank Vanore, the parking revenue from the Jays’ extended homestand allowed the post to recoup some of the losses they incurred when the 2020 spring season was cut short and the Dunedin Blue Jays minor league season was canceled.
“It’s been a blessing for us,” Vanore said prior to the start of the Jays’ finale. “It pulled us out of the losses we took last year and lightens our load so we can continue to provide the programs the VFW is responsible for in the community. It’s been tremendous, and the fans have been tremendous.”
Vanore, who before every game instructed everyone to stand at attention for the national anthem being played across the street, said the games even helped the post recruit new members.
“One woman said she was transferring from another post because she liked it so much here, and that’s a tribute to our whole staff,” he said. “So, we thank the Jays for staying with us and for everything they’ve done for us. It’s been great, great camaraderie between the city, the team and the fans.”
As the team prepared to board awaiting buses for the trip up north, officials were already prepping for the club’s Low A squad, the Dunedin Blue Jays, to welcome fans back to the ballpark June 3.
According to Andrew Thriffiley, the team’s communications coordinator, DJays game tickets go on sale May 28 and will be available to purchase digitally online and at the stadium box office on game days only.
Single-game tickets for the Dunedin Blue Jays can be purchased online at dunedinbluejays.com or by contacting the box office at 727-733-9302. Thriffiley also noted Opening Night would be a Thirsty Thursday promotion, featuring 12-ounce beers for $1 and 16-ouncers for $2, and he said masks will still be required in the stadium.
“We look forward to welcoming fans back to TD Ballpark for the return of Minor League Baseball in Dunedin,” he said.