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Spring training fans ignore chilly wind for Dunedin's opening game

DUNEDIN

On Wednesday morning, as the Toronto Blue Jays did drills in the outfield, Zack Byrne clutched his baseball book.

He had prepared for this day, the second of spring training, when baseball would again begin to bloom. He had avoided game days when planning his classes at the University of Tampa and, to get ready for autographs, scrubbed his glossy baseball cards with an eraser.

It didn't matter that he wasn't rooting for the Jays or their opponent, the Detroit Tigers. It didn't matter that clouds and cold air hung overhead. It didn't even matter that Dunedin Stadium, where he had paid $20 a ticket, was rookie-sized compared with larger fields across the state.

The love of the game, and the unsigned cards in his baseball book, were reason enough.

"I just love baseball … and there really isn't a bad seat in this stadium," Byrne said. "It just has that old-school spring training feel."

Byrne and nearly 3,100 others watched the Jays' spring opener Wednesday, the first of 14 for the team that has made Dunedin its home for decades.

The stadium, regarded by some at the game as a small-scale arena and small-town treasure, seats 5,500. The Jays share the neighborhood field with a minor-league team and the Falcons of Dunedin High School.

Chris Chartier of Montreal said that's what drew him to Dunedin. Unlike other large stadiums, he and his 6-year-old daughter, Autumn, both clad in Disney wear from trips to Orlando theme parks, can sit near the dugouts and run across the field after the game.

"The intimacy is still there," he said.

But the open-air stadium, due to Wednesday's cool winds, proved too cold for some. Mike Mundy has attended spring training games for 34 years and, with a home in Ontario, about an hour outside of Detroit, called himself a fan of both teams.

"This is awful," he said, before bundling up and running to his seat.

Before the game, warm indoor nooks like the Thirst Inning Lounge became standing-room only. Yet after Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers threw the first pitch, the afternoon sun began to heat the stands enough for some to say that, at times, it felt almost like spring.

Linda and Chuck Weindorf, who live on Long Island but spend winters in Hudson, said they came to the game because it was "supposed to be warm." They stuck it out because they liked the stadium's "quaintness."

"If we want a ballgame at Citi (Field) or Yankee Stadium, it's massive," Linda said. "But here, this is so nice. It's beautiful. It's perfect."

It wasn't enough, though, she said. Minutes later, she joined a line to buy hot chocolate.

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Spring training fans ignore chilly wind for Dunedin's opening game 03/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 8:28pm]
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