Sunday, August 23, 2009

Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter FL

Basic Information
Team: Jupiter Hammerheads (Florida State League)
Game: Hammerheads vs Sarasota Reds-8/13/09
Ticket Information: (561) 775-1818
Tourism Information: http://www.palmbeachculture.com/ or (561) 687-9484 (Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council)
Online Broadcasts: None

Team History: The Jupiter Hammerheads joined the Florida State League in 1998, the same season that Roger Dean Stadium opened it's doors. From 1998 until 2001, the Hammerheads were the FSL affiliate of the Montreal Expos, but in 2002, the Expos and Florida Marlins "traded" their spring training homes, with the Marlins moving to Roger Dean Stadium, and the Expos heading up I-95 to Space Coast Stadium in Viera.

In 2003, a second FSL team, the Palm Beach Cardinals, took up residence in Jupiter, making Roger Dan Stadium the only stadium in the minors that hosts two teams at the same time.

Roger Dean Stadium is also the spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals as well as the Marlins.

Team Affiliation: The Hammerheads have been the FSL affilate of the Florida Marlins since 2002.

How About That Name: Roger Dean Stadium is named after the founder of a chain of automotive dealerships which are well-known in south Florida.

Getting There: Take I-95 to Donald Ross Rd (exit 83). Go east on Donald Ross Rd for a half mile, making a left onto Parkside Dr into the Abacoa community. Follow Parkside Dr for approximately a half mile, then make a right onto University Dr, which will take you to the main parking structure. The stadium will be on your right.

One of the nice things is that on I-95 as you approach the Donald Ross Rd exit, there is a sign that tells you that this is the stadium exit, but there is also a "fold down" type sign below it that says "Game Today", which is helpful if you're afraid that you misread the schedule!

What To Do Before The Game: To be honest, there really isn't a lot attraction-wise near the ballpark, as it is in the middle of a planned community called Abacoa. For more information about attractions around Jupiter and Palm Beach County, contact the Tourism Develepment Council listed above.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are several fast food restaurants located on Donald Ross Blvd (I think there is a McDonalds, but my memory is not 100% on that). In addition, across the street from Abacoa, there is an "upscale" type shopping mall, which has some restaurants. Once you get into Abacoa, there are a few "boutique" food stores and coffee shops.

Where To Stay: The official hotel for the Hammerheads is the Comfort Inn and Suites, which is approximately four miles north of Roger Dean Stadium. For more information, call (561) 745-7997 or visit http://www.comfortinn.com/.

Tickets: The Hammerheads offer two ticket levels: $8.50 (adult) and $6.50 (12 and under and 62 and older).

Parking: There is a large parking structure just across the street from Roger Dean Stadium. Apparently for Hammerheads and Palm Beach Cardinals games, parking is free, but for Spring Training, there is a charge.

The Good Seats: Roger Dean Stadium is designed with the traditional "wishbone" setup which makes for the best viewing of baseball. The main grandstand extends from approximately 2/3rds of the way down the left field line, stretching to the same area on down the right field line. There is a large bleacher section behind the left field bullpen, and a small berm seating area behind the right field pen. However, these are not used for Hammerheads games.

Experiencing all of the views of Roger Dean Stadium is not difficult, since with fairly small crowds, you can move around and get whichever view you'd like.

One word of warning, much like Space Coast Stadium, there is very little shaded area, so if you're there on a summer day, put on a good coat of SPF 50!

Stadium Food: The food at Roger Dean Stadium wasn't half bad, but it seemed to me to be a little on the pricey side. Before the game, I purchased two hot dogs, an order of french fries, and a small Pepsi, which cost me $10.50. The dogs were pretty tasty, though. As far as I could tell, most of the concession stands were open, but there wasn't much business since the attendance (by my eye) was around 300. There are stands at each end of the main grandstand, as well as a pizza, beer, and ice cream stand which were located closer to the home plate area.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Roger Dean Stadium has a two scoreboard set-up. The board in right center field shoows the basic game information, and it's twin in left center is a video board, which is used mostly for showing commercials between innings.

The PA announcer, who I met before the game (sadly, I didn't get his name), is one of the best I've heard around the minors. He's got a good delivery, and a terrific sense of humor, which he incorporated into some of his pre-game announcements.

Game Staff: There weren't really that many of them, but they were very helpful and friendly.

Souvenirs: Roger Dean Stadium has a terrific (and for this night, wonderfully air conditioned) team store located on the first base side, immediately adjacent to the main entrance. The night I was there, much of the merchandise was on asle for 50% off, so I was able to purchase a Hammerheads game cap for just $16.00!!!

Atmosphere: Sadly, there was very little. As I had mentioned, my guess for the attendance was about 300, and although they were into the game, the noise level, as you might expect, was limited at best. Some of this might be due to baseball overkill. I had a discussion with Hammerheads GM Brian Barnes, and we mentioned the fact that the baseball fans in Jupiter had an embarrasment of riches. Between the Hammerheads and Cardinals, the stadium is used virtually every day from April until Labor Day, and if you include the six weeks of Spring Training, fans can pick and choose which game they want, knowing that there is a game virtually every day.

Overall: Roger Dean Stadium is a first class facility, and gives baseball fans good value for the money. Sadly, on this hot August night (thank you, Neil Diamond), it seemed rather lifeless. I'm sure if there were a few more bodies in seats, it would have been a more positive experience. However, I would recommend Roger Dean Stadium highly for anyone who is in the south Florida area.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Daytona FL

Basic Information
Team: Daytona Cubs (Florida State League)
Game: Cubs vs Tampa Yankees-8/11/09
Ticket Information: (386) 257-3172
Tourism Information: http://www.daytonabeach.com/ or (386) 255-0415
Online Broadcasts: http://www.wrod.com/

Team History: Known originally as Daytona City Island Ballpark, the home of the Daytona Cubs was opened on June 4, 1914. Over the years, it has hosted a parade of minor league baseball teams, including farm clubs of the Dodgers, Astros, Expos, and since 1993, the Chicago Cubs. "The Jack", as it is known locally, earned it's claim to fame when in 1946, the Brooklyn Dodgers were scheduled to play a game against it's top minor league affiliate, the Montreal Royals. At the time, the Royals featured a young, budding second baseman named Jackie Robinson. Two other cities in Florida refused to let the game be played, due to segregation laws. However, the good citizens of Daytona allowed the game to be played at City Island, and this game was a showcase for Robinson, as he became the first African-American player to play in the major leagues the next year.

The ballpark, which was added to the United States National Register of Historic Places in 1988, was also the spring training home of the Montreal Expos in the seventies.

Team Affiliation: The Daytona Cubs have been affilated with the NL's North Siders since 1993.

How About That Name: The park recieved it's current name in 1989, when it was dedicated to the former Dodger great.

Getting There: From I-95, exit at Exit 261 (US-92/International Speedway Blvd). Go east on International Speedway Blvd for approximately five miles. Make a right onto Beach St, then a left onto Magnolia Ave. Ballpark will be on the left.

What To Do Before The Game: One of the largest sports facilities in the world with a capacity of over two hundred thousand, the Daytona International Speedway dominates the skyline as you exit I-95 to head for the ballpark. Although very little can compare with watching a NASCAR race live at the track, you can get a taste of what it's like at the Daytona 500 Experience, located at the Speedway. The attraction features an excellent interactive museum with displays on the history of NASCAR and the Speedway, how stock cars are built, and even a simulated "pit stop" where visitors can become a member of the "crew", taking turns handling the gas can, running the jack, or changing tires. In addition, visitors also recieve a guided tour of the track, which takes them once around the 2.5 mile tri-oval, a drive through pit lane, and winding up at Victory Lane. For more information, visit http://www.daytona500experience.com/ or call (386) 681-6530.

No trip to Daytona is complete without a stop at "the World's Most Famous Beach". According to the Daytona Beach visitors bureau, there are 23 miles of white sand beach available to lovers of the surf. Cars are permitted on several sections of the beach from sunrise to sunset, but parking is not allowed, and there is a general speed limit of 15 MPH.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are literally dozens of restaurants along International Speedway Blvd, which caters to the crwod that invades the area during Speed Week in February, Bike Week in March, and July 4th weekend, when the Pepsi 100, the second of the two NASCAR races held at Daytona. Most of the restaurants near the Speedway are of the inexpensive nature (Ker's Wing House, Hooters, Olive Garden, etc.) or of the fast food variety.

Where To Stay: Hotels are plenitful in the Daytona Beach area, with just about every name chain represented.

Tickets: Cubs tickets are as follows: $12.00 (VIP), $7.00 (adult general admission), $6.00 (youth general admission).

Parking: When Jackie Robinson Ballpark was built in 1914, parking wasn't given a lot of consideration, which means that in 2009, parking near the stadium is at a premium. There is some free parking at the City of Daytona Beach Public Library or the Volusia County Government office buildings, which are both a 1-2 block walk from the park.

The Good Seats: Jackie Robinson ballpark features two main granstands. The first is a traditional covered affair built in 1962, which starts behind home plate and curves around and up the first base line. The second is a large open-air metal bleacher section, which was erected in 1973. While sitting in the covered section provides shade from the often-oppresive sun, the bleachers are high enough to give a great view of the stadium, as well as the Daytona Beach skyline. In 2007, the Cubs opened the Budweiser Bullpen in right field, which provides patrons with a fully stocked bar.

Stadium Food: Fairly good. "The Jack" provides standard ballpark fare (hot dogs and pizza were both $2.75 each), as well as the very good Dustin's BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich ($3.50). There are seperate stands for those who wish to purchase beer behind home plate and under the third base grandstand.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: The ballpark features a old-fashioned manually operated scoreboard in left center field.

Game Staff: Friendly and extremely helpful! I spent a few minutes in one of the VIP seats early in the game eating my BBQ sandwich, and one of the ushers came over and wanted to see my ticket. Instead of the "Storm Trooper" approach that some arenas and stadiums have, this gentleman put his hand on my shoulder and said "my friend, can I see your ticket". After I explained who I was and that I was just sitting there long enough to eat my sandwich, he smiled and said "no problem, my friend". A rather refreshing approach.

Souvenirs: There is a small, well stocked stand under the first base grandstand.

Atmosphere: Like at Space Coast Stadium, the emphasis is on the game, and making sure the attendees have a good time, and this is something that they do well. In-game promotions are kept to a minimum and are fairly low-key. The fans are there to watch baseball, and the Cubs put on a good product.

One of the more unique characters in Daytona is "Front Row Joe". A long-time Daytona baseball fan and season ticket holder, Front Row Joe has been to (at the time of my visit) 986 consecutive home games! His consecutive games total is posted every game on a sign on the left center field fence. A member of the Cubs office staff told me that when Joe reaches his thousandth game, EPSN will be in attendance!

Overall: While a lot of the stadiums in the Florida State League are new, and have all the shiny accoutrements that new parks are supposed to have, it's nice to see that there are still places like Jackie Robinson Ballpark are still around and lively. "The Jack" has character and charm, traits that you can't design or build. They're something that, like a fine scotch, just comes with aging gracefully. Let's hope that "The Jack" will be hosting baseball games for decades to come, as younger baseball fans should have the chance to see what the "classic" parks were once like.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Space Coast Stadium, Viera FL



Basic Information
Team: Brevard County Manatees (Florida State League)
Game: Manatees vs Daytona Cubs-8/7/09
Team Website: http://www.manateesbaseball.com/
Ticket Information: (321) 633-9200
Tourism Information: http://www.space-coast.com/ or (877) 57-BEACH
Online Broadcasts: none

Team History: The Manatees have been a member of the Florida Coast League since 1994, when Space Coast Stadium opened. The Manatees were the single-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins from 1994 until 2001, when the Montreal Expos moved in. The Expos were affiliated with the Manatees until 2005, when the Milwaukee Brewers joined up with the team. Space Coast Stadium also serves as the spring training home of the Washington Nationals.

Team Affiliation: The Manatees are the single A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.

How About That Name: The home of the Manatees has been known as Space Coast Stadium since it's opening.

Getting There: From I-95, exit at Wickham Rd (exit 191). Go west on Wickham Rd for approximately half a mile, proceeding through the traffic circle. Make a right onto Stadium Pkwy, continuing north on Stadium Pkwy for two miles, with Space Coast Stadium being on the left.

What To Do Before The Game: Since Viera is located on the "Space Coast", a trip to Kennedy Space Center is a given. Located approximately a half hour north east of Viera, the legendary spaceport has been the site of every United States manned space launch since 1961. KSC features an expansive visitors center, detailing the history of manned space flight, several IMAX movies, a guided bus tour of the launch complex from where the Space Shuttle launches into orbit, and the adjacent Astronaut Hall of Fame. As someone who has been there many times, visiting KSC is a full day adventure. For more information, visit http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/ or call (321) 449-4444.

If you're in the mood to visit some wild animals, the Brevard Zoo is a good bet. Just on the other side of I-95 on Wickham Rd, the Brevard Zoo is the home of animals from Australia, Africa, the South American rain forest as well as around the state of Florida, the Brevard Zoo is quite extensive, and is one of my personal favorites. To learn more about the zoo, call (321) 254-9453 or go to http://www.brevardzoo.com/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are myriad places to eat along Wickham Rd and in Viera, a planned community, which has literally boomed in the past ten years. As soon as you get off of I-95 and start proceeding towards the ballpark, there is a Cracker Barrel and a Burger King. If you go east on Wickham towards Melbourne, there is a Sonny's Real Pit Barbecue, a Denny's and a McDonalds adjacent to I-95. If you head into Viera, there are multiple restaurants of all manner.

Where To Stay: There is a Holiday Inn on Wickham Rd, which you will encounter just as you exit off of I-95. This hotel is an official sponsor of the Manatees, so my assumption is that it comes recommended. For more info, call (800) 554-5188 or click on http://www.himelbourne.com/. There is also a La Quinta Hotel on the west side of Wickham Rd, near the Cracker Barrel. For more information, call (800) SLEEP-LQ or visit http://www.lq.com/.

Tickets: All Manatees tickets are $7.00.

Parking: Parking for Manatees' games is free and plentiful. However, you will be parking in a grass lot, and the gravel access road to the lot resembles a moonscape, so take it slow going in and out!

The Good Seats: With a capacity of just over eight thousand, Space Coast Stadium is one of the largest in the Florida State League. However, all of the seats are close to the field, giving a good view. The game I attended was a night, so this wasn't an issue, but there is very limited cover at Space Coast Stadium, so you will get a sun tan if you're there during the day! There is a small roof at the top of the bleacher sections along the right and left field lines, and if you sit high in the main granstand, you might get some protection from the pressbox and luxury suites, but other than that, you're might get a little cooked.

Stadium Food: The concessions at Space Coast are your standard ballpark fare, ie. hot dogs, burgers, fries, funnel cakes, ice cream. I thought the hot dogs that I sampled were pretty good, but I thought that even with a special package deal, my 2 dogs, fries, and a large Coke topping out at $12.00 was a bit on the high side. There are concession stands on the first and third base sides of the park, so things move pretty quickly.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: The Manatees have a one-year old video/scoreboard positioned in left center field. The video is good quality and visible, but could be more utilized. However, with that being said, I think that it will be more a part of the promotions and game experience as time goes on. The 'Tees PA announcer is solid, with a good delivery, but doesn't go too wild, and lets the game tell the story.

Game Staff: While the Manatee's staff is limited, they work hard to make a night at Space Coast Stadium a positive experience.

Souvenirs: There is a small souvenir stand on the left side of the grandstand just as you enter the main concourse.

Atmosphere: The "game is the thing" at Space Coast Stadium. There is no blaring music, no over the top promotions, no distractions, just good baseball in a nice, intimate ballpark. One of the things about Space Coast Stadium is that, although it doesn't have the "bells and whistles" that some of the newer ballparks might boast, the 'Tees staff does a great job with what it has to work with. The home of the Manatees is also one of the cleanest parks I've been to, and that is one of the things that team GM Kyle Smith takes great pride in.

Overall: On a steamy August night in Viera, a Manatees game provides a terrific, inexpensive night out. Space Coast Stadium is easy to get to, get around in, and is just provides a positive experience all around.