THE OTHER SIDE OF SPORTS (TOO) “85 Years of Baseball, Pro and Am”

By on April 3, 2014

 

Eddie Michels File Photo

 

DUNEDIN, FLA.–For the past 85 summers starting in 1930 the corner of Douglas Ave. and Beltrees has been the home for baseball in Dunedin, Florida.

On the land given by Dunedin Mayor Albert Grant and named after him in 1938 the park has grown to give its personality to the area.

In 1976 a far sighted man Vice Mayor later Mayor Cecil P. Englebert traveled to Toronto who had just been awarded an American League Expansion Franchise and pitched the idea of holding their spring training in Dunedin.

To say the least it worked as even with a few bumps in the road the two cities and the ball club have been friends for the past 38-springs blessed with “Chamber of Commerce Weather”, as the late Hall of Fame announcer Tom Cheek would say.

Now despite the name on the stadium facade I understand that the playing surface is still called Grant Field.  Well here are a few quirks about that surface that don’t come into play today.

A gentleman I know told me that when he played there as a kid and into high school the scruff grass in the outfield caused a problem or two.  First you had to pick up your feet when running as the tuffs of grass would trip you up.  Now if that wasn’t bad enough if the ball hit one of these tuffs you wouldn’t know which way the ball was going, left, right, up or down.

Now jumping forward to when the Jays arrived in Dunedin, for a few years at least no player would dive for a ball.  Seems that it took a few years to get rid of the ants that populated the field.

The old wooden stadium that was there up until 1989 before being mercifully torn down in the fall of 1989 to make way for the present basic structure had a quirk or two about it.  Dunedin played its Florida State League games there in 1978-79 and 1987-89 before the new park in 1990.

One gentleman that was there before and after 1990 with the old and the new described the new as, “Pristine and Beautiful,” said former Dunedin Manager Dennis Holmberg.  “It gave kids a chance to come to the park and enjoy the newness, and it brought out the fans to the game.”

Holmberg did mention one thing about the old park and that was the crushed shells used for the warning track, much like the Phillies old park, Jack Russell Stadium less than two miles to the south.

The press box in the old park up until its demise had baseball writers bringing towels to put their computers on and to rest their arms.  The real reason was the splinters from the counter would impale the arms of the writers causing an unpleasant situation according to Phil Gulick of the St. Petersburg Time.

Also I understand for a few years at least that trailers were used as team offices and media work areas as there were no such facilities at the time.

As a note here fans there are some photos of the old park, ground level and aerial available for viewing on the internet.  All you have to do is Google “Grant Field Dunedin, Fl.” and take a look.

Now a bit of a local up roar was caused during the construction/reconstruction in 2001-02 as the Dunedin American Little League was displaced by the expansion of the stadium and support facilities.

The two little league fields were moved over to Michigan Ave. near the Dunedin National Little League Park and some just didn’t like it.  But when one scratched the surface it appears that the kids and the city got a gift.

You see fans I was told the move cost around $440,000.00 and included two new fields, lights, clubhouses, concession stands and storage areas.  Now I have been told that the cost didn’t come out of the city coffers so I wonder just who the generous team was?

So fans after 85-years as a ball park and the last 25 as a new and improved stadium let us all take a step in the right direction and say, “PLAY BALL!”

Closing notes of interest-Despite its many names it has had about as many distances down the foul lines, power alleys but not center field. You see the foul lines have changed every few years or two depending on how they are measured, base of the fence or base to home run line added. Heck the right field line has grown from 327’ to 336’ in just four years. The power alleys are still a mystery to me, not only the measurements but where exactly left center field and right center field actually are. Center field though is actually a constant, at least over my 24-years covering the team. You see is says a nice round 400’ on the fence but that is a bit off. You see it’s actually only 397’ but why change it as 400’ does look better. …We all remember 9-11-01 but in Dunedin it had a different meaning as it was the day the original home team clubhouse was torn down. You see when the Jays came here in 1977 for their first spring training and the third base clubhouse was less than suitable, infested to say the least. Well a new cement block clubhouse was built on the first base side to accommodate the new team. Seeing it for the first time in 1991 I wondered why it was so small so according to RHP Bill Singer came the answer, “We only had 37-players in camp that spring.” So yes fans on 9-11-01 the old clubhouse in Dunedin was torn down as part of the rehab and reconstruction to what we have today. …Back a few years ago the powers to be decided that the right hand flag pole as viewed from home plate should fly the American Flag, reason was because I was told, it was taller. That meant that the Canadian flag flew on the left, wrong but no one noticed except for yours truly. Being a Veteran and not wanting to cause an incident I kept my mouth shut for a whole spring then afterword’s I went to the head groundskeeper and let him know. To make a long story short the flags switched poles and the Canadian flag just wasn’t raised to the top of the pole only to the height of the American flag. …Now here is one when you drive by the stadium and see the American Flag on the right and the Canadian on the left, and ask is that right? Well enough said for now, so until then… (Eddie Michels Photo)

 

 

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