|Setting||9/10||1 Thumb Up||Location/Access||9/10||1 Thumb Up|
|Architecture & Aesthetics||22.5/28||1 Thumb Up|
|Exterior Design/Aesthetics||8/10||1 Thumb Up|
|Interior Aesthetics/Visuals||12/15||1 Thumb Up|
|Concourse Aesthetics||2.5/3||1 Thumb Up|
|Functionality & Essentials||19.5/25||1 Thumb Up|
|Sightlines||8/10||1 Thumb Up|
|Seat Comfort||4/5||1 Thumb Up|
|Concourse Functionality||4.5/7||Thumb Sideways|
|Scoreboards/Tech||3/3||1 Thumb Up|
|Amenities & Features||16/20||1 Thumb Up|
|Concessions||8.5/10||1 Thumb Up|
|Premium/Group Seating||2/4||Thumb Sideways|
|Social Spaces||4/4||2 Thumbs Up|
|Kids Areas||1.5/2||1 Thumb Up|
|Atmosphere, Vibe, & Policies||15/17||1 Thumb Up|
|Ballpark Personality||9/10||1 Thumb Up|
|Fan Support||4/5||1 Thumb Up|
|Ballpark Policies/Staff||2/2||1 Thumb Up|
|Ranking||FL: #4(t)/13; Overall: #7(t)/23|
By: Cole Shoemaker
While always charmingly recalling the no-frills ballpark experiences of yesteryear, the park formerly known as Dunedin Stadium was by far the weakest link in spring training baseball for over 10 years prior to 2020.
Opening in 1990 (although the site dates back to 1930), the ballpark just missed the trend of super spring training complexes ushered in a year later with the Twins’ Hammond Stadium and rapidly compounded throughout Florida and Arizona during the 90s. Moreover, during the 30-year period from opening to 2019, Dunedin Stadium didn’t receive substantive capital investments, when other parks received two generations of upgrades.
Sure, some still loved the neighborly Dunedin Stadium, but there’s a line between “cozy and intimate” and just objectively inadequate, and the park formerly slipped into the latter territory.
It wasn’t that Dunedin Stadium formerly lacked some of the more frivolous amenities like tiki bars and kids’ playgrounds. The park was missing the basics all fans have come to expect. The seats were styled after bleachers (not of the fold-down variety), the concourse resembled a narrow hallway in some places, and the scoreboard lacked technology common even 20 years ago, reading “Home” and “Guest.” It almost felt like high school baseball.
While the intimacy has been maintained, the re-envisioned and rebranded TD Ballpark has been overhauled top-to-bottom for 2020, now possessing all of the basic essentials and adding plenty of fan-friendly amenities.
Aesthetics are enhanced, a boardwalk has been added in the outfield creating a 360-degree experience, and new amenities like destination bars are fantastic, resulting in the greatest score boost (59 to 90) in the history of ballparkratings.com!
All of which makes it even more remarkable that TD Ballpark’s greatest asset might still be its location integrated with Dunedin’s charming local scene. It’s one of the few spring training venues that could be construed as a “neighborhood ballpark.” The location comes with drawbacks—namely the lack of parking and being 20 miles off the closest interstate—but it’s a plus on the whole. Plenty of local bars and restaurants within a short walk in this quaint town.
TD Ballpark has such a sense of community that you can see elementary-school children playing beyond left field.
The reimagined exterior architecture is subdued but gorgeous, continuing to buck the trend of Spanish Mission aesthetics that were all the rage in Florida spring training in the 2000s.
The outside has been stripped of concrete and infused with what officials are calling a “Key West aesthetic,” as colors of white and yellow have been incorporated into the façade, complimenting the Blue Jays shades of blue.
White trellises, slates, and overhangs help the architecture fit in with the look of the classic Dunedin neighborhood. I could do without the red brick, but the new exterior looks absolutely fantastic. It does look like the outside of a Floridian beach house. So intimate. Note the ballplayer-themed weathervane topping the elevator tower, showcasing an attention to detail not commonly seen in spring training.
The interior aesthetics in the seating bowl don’t look like they’ve really been beautified, but the overall appearance is more coherent and polished. A fresh set of paint to an already intimate ballpark does wonders for the inside.
While team-related theming is not as extensive as some other parks, Blue Jays’ branding throughout the ballpark is strong. Note the Blue Jays logo on the staircases and awnings and the team banners throughout the concourses. The park does a good job of importing a taste of Toronto to Dunedin.
Access to players within the confines of TD Ballpark is still excellent, defined by Autograph Alley down the right field line on the ground-level main concourse below the beginning of the boardwalk.
Everything about the renovated TD Ballpark is more pleasant from a functional point-of-view.
Over 800 seats were added down the third base line, and all bleacher-styled seats in the main seating bowl have been replaced with fold-down seating with cupholders. The foot room is still a little tight due to the existing grandstand, but this is the ballpark’s biggest upgrade given the dreadfulness of the old seats.
While still closed from the field around the seating bowl, the main concourse has been widened and a walk-around concourse has been added in the outfield. Like in Bradenton, for example, the new 360-degree concourse system is a bit disjointed, with the outfield boardwalk positioned a floor above the concourse beneath the seating bowl, but the fact that fans can encircle the ballpark is most welcome.
Dubbed the Orange Trail in a tribute to Dunedin’s orange groves, exemplified by the oranges painted on the buildings of downtown Dunedin, this outfield boardwalk is the highlight of the renovations. Here, Blue Jays fans will find the WestJet Flight Deck, echoing the standing room setup back home at the Rogers Centre. As is common in spring training parks, Blue Jays fans can now overlook the bullpens as well.
On the downside, there is no accessible 200-level concourse above the seating bowl like at a number of other renovated spring facilities. The intimate sightlines at TD Ballpark are fine, but the two older sections down the right field line could be slightly better angled toward the infield.
Dunedin Stadium’s technology formerly felt like that of a community college facility, with the most rudimentary scoreboard one could envision for a venue hosting professional baseball. There was only one PA speaker in the entire ballpark! That’s all been changed, as TD Ballpark has a typical state-of-the-art, HD video system in the outfield.
TD Ballpark’s amenities have been significantly upgraded, putting it in line with almost every other Grapefruit League facility. Nothing about the amenities are truly groundbreaking, but that’s hard to do in 2020, and TD Ballpark checks most of the boxes. The park also competes for best in spring training baseball in one subcategory.
Concession space and signage has been upgraded throughout the main concourse. While there are no locally operated concessionaires, unique fare includes conch fritters, grouper tacos, specialty sandwiches, pork skewers, and veggie wraps. Poutine is for sale too. The decent craft beer selection (note the “craft beer wall” down the right field line) is a highlight. Plenty more craft beer inside Eddie’s Bar (see below) as well!
TD Ballpark is full of accessible (i.e. open to all with a ticket) social spaces, bars, climate-controlled areas, and other places to sit on the concourses. In fact, Dunedin is now right up there with Steinbrenner Field (Yankees in Tampa) for best overall spring training ballpark here, with so many places for fans to just “hang out” not at their seat.
Multi-tier drink rails in right-center field overlook the action, and the WestJet FlightDeck is backed by a full-service tiki bar (with bar seating). Blue high-top tables and chairs are available on the Orange Trail for those who wish to relax. The boardwalk in the left field corner has more tables and chairs, and the main concourse on the first base side features picnic tables.
In terms of more elaborate social spaces, TD Ballpark has the climate-controlled Eddie’s Bar. Named after the local bar and grill in Dunedin, this space is themed as the Blue Jays’ version of one of the many local breweries throughout the town. There is an adjacent patio to Eddie’s as well.
This is a big plus, as Dunedin is now one of only three spring training parks (Orioles in Sarasota and Yankees in Tampa) with a climate-controlled dining/bar space accessible to all fans.
The Pavilion at the end of the main concourse down the third base line is my favorite social space at the ballpark. Featuring Adirondack chairs, picnic tables, and high top tables, this is a great place to chill before the game.
On the other hand, there aren’t many new unique private group/premium seating options at TD Ballpark, although the woefully outdated “skyboxes” flanking the press box have been significantly enhanced as true luxury suites with proper lounges and outdoor stadium seating. Eddie’s Patio (and rarely Eddie’s Bar) can be reserved for groups, but the purpose of those spaces is to accommodate all ticketed fans, and that’s a great thing. A private group area called “Right Field Social” behind the right field wall has also been added, so that’s something.
Finally, TD Ballpark is a great spring training facility for families with children. The Pavilion features cornhole games, “connect-four,” face painting, balloon animals, a caricature station, speed pitch, and live music.
Overall, TD Ballpark’s renovation project is right in line with other ballpark restorations in the 2010s, incorporating all of the best features from around the state.
It’s also an overhaul that should please almost everybody: beautification of aesthetics in keeping with the sensibility of the neighborhood for locals, preservation of an old-fashion spring training vibe for traditionalists, addition of a plethora of social spaces for millennials, and inclusion of family-friendly areas for kids.
Blue Jays spring training has always charmingly recalled the intimacy of the past, but now has the amenities and comfort of the present.