Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tour 2012: Roger Dean Stadium

All photos of the Jupiter Hammerheads and GCL Cardinals games available on Flickr.

Erik and I spent 3 days in hot and sweaty South Florida, and we can once again count ourselves among those devoted baseball fans who have been to all 30 current MLB stadiums!  Not before we squeezed in some minor league ball, however.  Our trip began on Thursday with an early flight from Milwaukee to Fort Lauderdale.  The plan for the first day was to rent a car and drive up the A1A (Beachfront Avenue!) to Jupiter to catch a game at Roger Dean Stadium.  When looking for cars to rent, I snatched up the opportunity to drive a convertible for quite possibly the first and only time in my life.  It was one of the cheaper rental options for some reason and we got a black Chrysler 200.  I don't know anything about cars but I thought it was pretty sweet ride, although it was no Yeller.  It took us awhile to figure out how to put the top down but by about 4pm, we were off.  The A1A ended up being a very slow ride up the Atlantic coast and we did not have the luxury of time on our side as we did on the Tour to cruise down the PCH, so we unfortunately had to switch over to the interstate.  We checked into our hotel a few miles from the park and got to the gates at what we thought would be just in time, but it turned out the game was at 6:30 and not 7, so we were a little late.  Arriving late proved to have some benefits though.  We didn't feel rushed to get inside and got to see most of the exterior, and Erik was able to find a foul ball outside since the game had already started.  The guy in the ticket booth for some reason generously gave us the child/student rate and we finally walked into the park in the bottom of the 2nd.

I was shocked right away with how many people were in the concourse.  Knowing that Florida State League games are frequently roasting hot and/or rained out, we were expecting a very small crowd on a weeknight.  In our only other FSL experience in Dunedin, it was so empty and quiet we could hear people coughing on the other side of the stadium.  It turned out the Hammerheads drew a great crowd of well over 1,000 for Dollar Dog Beer & Soda night.  We went to our seats for a few innings before getting food in hopes the lines would die down, but such was not the case.  Between arriving to the park late and waiting in the concession line, I probably missed a third of the game.  The fact that the Hammerheads only had 3 small carts open for $1 dogs led me to believe that the large crowd was in fact an anomaly, because clearly they were not prepared for this many people.  The concessions and the concourse were a joke.  The lines were terrible for everything and there were food carts instead of proper stands, so the food lines cramped into the aisle way, and it should have went much faster since everybody was just getting hot dogs and beer.  There was also only one spot in the right field corner that had handicap access up to the seating bowl and only one set of bathrooms that I found.  The one nice part of the concourse was there was a pretty good team store that had plenty of gear from both of the FSL tenants, as well as their parent clubs who use "The Dean" in the Grapefruit League (Marlins and Cardinals).

The outside of the park certainly had a Florida-esque flare with its use of colors, archways, stucco, and many palm trees for shade.  But the inside was not unlike any other minor league park of its size.  FSL parks are sort of unique because as I mentioned, they often double as Spring Training sites.  At Roger Dean Stadium, you will find a nice jumbotron, nice clubhouses, back practice fields, prominent team offices, and a larger seating capacity than you might see in any other A-ball league, and I'm sure several other FSL parks are the same in this regard.  I was kind of surprised that there were not more fan amenties since it does also get used for Spring Training.  It certainly was not a bad experience but the most memorable part of the night for me was the game itself, not a fancy stadium.  I guess many baseball purists would argue that this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Erik and I have been to so many ballgames now, that they all kind of blend together for me after awhile.  Erik tends to be much more attentive to the actual games than I am, whereas I care more about the architecture and experience of the ballpark.  There are those games once in awhile though that I can't help but remember, and Thursday night's game was one of them, despite only seeing 6 innings of it.  Christian Yelich and Jacob Realmuto both went deep twice and combined to knock in 10 of the team's 11 runs in the win over the St. Lucie Mets.  It was definitely the most homeruns I've ever seen in a minor league game, and probably also the most hard-hit balls I've seen.  Lots of balls to deep center and line drives in the gap.  Between college summer ball and the Brewers I haven't exactly been seeing a lot of high-talent ball lately and it was very refreshing to be there for this hitting display.  Yelich also chipped in 2 singles on the day to finish 4-5 and Erik has informed me that he is playing in the Futures Game next week during the All-Star Break.  Marcell Ozuna, the league-leader in homeruns, did not run into one tonight but did have a hit.  The future looks bright for the Marlins if these kids can keep it up and they don't get traded.  Both starters only went 5 innings but the Hammerheads starter got the win due to the fortune of this good hitting.

After the game, we hit up this quaint avenue behind the ballpark for a few drinks.  We spent most of our night at this place I read about called JJ Muggs, and it was pretty outstanding.  We didn't stay out too long because we had a long day ahead of us for Day 2.  Up until about two weeks ago, our plan for Friday was to drive down to hang out in Miami Beach before the Marlins game, but instead we decided to cross off our swimming tradition at a local beach in Jupiter.  This allowed us to enjoy a less crowded beach, and more importantly, gave us the opportunity to take in some Gulf Coast League action back at The Dean.  The GCL is a rookie league for recent draft picks and is different from most other minor leagues in that its primarily purpose is for instruction of young players, not to cater to fans.  These kids all play on the back fields of the FSL/Grapefruit League complexes in the blazing sun every afternoon in front of nobody other than teammates, scouts, and maybe a sparse gathering of family members.  And on this afternoon, two random rabid baseball fans.  We had to ask around to find where the teams were even playing because it is not marked anywhere nor is it on any website.  The staff lady we found even tried directing us to the main stadium, but we had to inform her we were not there for the Hammerheads matinee.  After we explained to her what the hell the Gulf Coast League was we were eventually pointed in the right direction.  We only had time to watch about 3 innings but it was very entertaining as we could hear all the chatter and yelling on the field and in the dugouts.  At one point, from 30 feet away we very distinctly heard the umpire say to the GCL Marlins coach "that's enough George" after complaining incessantly about bad calls.  To which he replied "Enough of what?"  It was pretty hilarious and a running joke for us the rest of the trip.  As I said, they play on back fields, so at the time we had no idea what the stats were or the score, but sometimes it's just nice to watch a ballgame without the frills.  In what I determined was about the bottom of the 4th, we got back in the Chrysler, flipped the top down, and jetted down to Miami for the 2nd leg of the trip.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 3
view to field - 9
surrounding area - 5 (short street with bars)
food variety - 2 (primarily dogs and pizza)
nachos - n/a
beer - 8 ($1 but only Bud)
vendor price - 10 (dollar night)
ticket price - 9 ($6.50 box seat)
atmosphere - 6 (surprisingly large crowd)
walk to park - 4
parking price/proximity - 7 (free lawn across the street but hard to access)
concourses - 2
team shop - 7

complex - 3 (fields are spread out)

best food - $1 dog
most unique stadium feature - exterior materials/colors
best jumbotron feature - homerun animation
best between-inning feature - kids smash waterballoons with bats

field dimensions - 330/400/325
starters - Chase Huchingson (StL) v. Jose Fernandez (JUP); Miguel Del Pozo (Marlins) v. Ramon Ulacio (Cardinals)
opponent - St. Lucie Mets v. Jupiter Hammerheads; GCL Marlins v. GCL Cardinals
time of game - 2:27; 2:46
attendance - 1989; n/a
score - 11-4 W; 10-1 L
Brewers score that day - off

Brewers 37-42, -7.0 (4 v. Marlins, 3 @ Astros)
Reds 44-35, +1.0 (3 @ Dodgers, 4 @ Padres)
Twins 34-45, -8.0 (4 @ Tigers, 3 @ Rangers)

Erik - 14
Peter - 23

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