For hardcore baseball fans and lovers of spring weather, there’s no sweeter phrase than “pitchers and catchers report."
The Toronto Blue Jays officially kicked off their 2012 spring campaign on Tuesday (Feb. 21), when pitchers and catchers reported to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. The rest of the position players have until Friday to check in.
As we count the days until the first game, Patch presents a fan’s guide to Blue Jays spring training.
What do I need to know about Florida Auto Exchange Stadium?
Built in 1990, the Toronto Blue Jays’ spring training home has had a few names — Grant Field and Knology Park among them — before being named after a prominent area automobile dealer in 2010.
, 373 Douglas Ave., is known as one of the most fan-friendly ballparks in the Grapefruit League, thanks to its intimate confines and unobstructed sightlines. The seating capacity is 5,500.
The facility is just a few blocks away from historic downtown Dunedin, and it can also be accessed by the adjacent Pinellas Trail, a walking and biking path that stretches from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs.
The Jays practice at the nearby Englebert Athletic Complex, a four-field facility located on Solon Road off County Road 1.
Although the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium lot is not very big, parking is available up and down Douglas Avenue, in lots at the nearby as well as at local businesses.
This past winter, the grass was completely replaced after years of wear and tear caused the old turf to deteriorate. The Jays also got in the offseason and will be sporting them for the first time this spring.
When does the spring training season start, and how can I get tickets?
The Blue Jays open the 2012 spring season on Saturday, March 3 at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
There are 17 home games on the schedule for the Jays this spring, including three games against the Philadelphia Phillies, two against the New York Yankees, two against the Boston Red Sox, and one against the Tampa Bay Rays. The final home date is a meeting with the Detroit Tigers on April 3.
Tickets are available through the Blue Jays website or by calling 888-525-5297. Prices range from $15-$21 for regular games and $20-$28 for premium games.
Keep in mind the premium games against the better teams like Boston and New York sell out quickly, so order tickets for those games as soon as possible if you want to see those teams.
Who are the players to watch on the Blue Jays?
Toronto has one of the best power hitters in the game today, outfielder Jose Bautista. The 31-year-old burst onto the baseball scene two years ago when he mashed 54 home runs, and he followed that up with a 43-homer campaign in 2011; he finished in the top four of the American league MVP race both years.
Toronto is loaded with pitching, including hard-throwing starters Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero and relievers Sergio Santos and Francisco Cordero. Catcher J.P. Arencibia had a breakout rookie season in 2011, hitting 23 homers with 78 runs batted in.
Toronto is led by manager John Farrell, who is entering his third season with the Jays.
Note: Some spring games are what is known as "split squad" contests. This means players are divided up to particiapte in games in multiple locations, so your're not always guaranteed to see the players you want to see every game.
What are some fun places to go to eat and drink before and after the games?
Directly outside and near the stadium, there are few options. is located a few hundred yards south on the opposite side of Douglas Avenue, and is a good spot to grab a quick bite of dependable diner food. Also south of the stadium, on the other side of the Dunedin Public Library is . It's a cozy nook that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
A couple blocks north is . It features cold beer and full liquor and is within walking distance of the field.
Venture a little further north on Douglas and you’ll run smack dab into downtown Dunedin. This historic district is a hub of drinking and dining hotspots, including the , , Mexican restaurant and the .
Eat, drink and dance the night away at , taste homemade ice cream at , or visit Dunedin’s newest microbrewery, , for a sample of some of the most unique beers in town.
What is there nearby for non-baseball fans to do?
Dunedin is known as one of the most scenic, historic towns in the Tampa Bay area, so there is no shortage of activities to keep non-sports fans occupied.
Nature lovers can drive over the Dunedin Causeway and check out picturesque and Islands. Golfers will want to tee off at the historic . Beer drinkers can tour one of the town’s many microbreweries or . And arts and craft aficionados will be able to wander around for hours and check out the myriad galleries and shows that make Dunedin a mecca for talented artists.
What are some inside tips for first-time travelers to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium?
- The best place to get autographs during the game is in the left field corner near the fence or under the stands. Before and after games, fans camp out at the players parking lot on the south end of the facility.
- The sun can be strong if you’re sitting in the lower levels, so if you want a little shade, underneath the roof overhangs is the best place to be.
- Sit on the picnic benches that line the walkways behind the stands, and enjoy a beverage and some ballpark food while soaking up the spring training atmosphere
- Order a Labatt’s Blue.
[Updated 12:38 p.m., Thursday, March 1]