DUNEDIN — Chris Ballantyne noticed it was a beautiful Monday morning. So he rode his bicycle — an eight-minute trip — to a major-league baseball game.
“This is like baseball paradise,” said Ballantyne, a retired New Yorker who works part-time as a Honeymoon Island park ranger. “This is like ‘Field of Dreams comes to Dunedin.’ Granted, it’s a weird place for a major-league game. But I love it. I’m sorry to see it end.”
Monday was the final outing of a 21-game run for the Toronto Blue Jays at Dunedin’s TD Ballpark, their normal spring training facility, but their home-away-from-home during the early season due to coronavirus protocols in Canada.
The rampaging Rays made it end poorly with an 14-8, 11-inning victory, completing a four-game sweep, extending the Blue Jays’ home losing streak to six games and moving their Dunedin record to 10-11 overall.
The game drew 1,641 fans, reflecting the mandatory distancing in the park with a normal capacity of 8,500, and for the largest attendance during the Blue Jays’ Dunedin swing. The average attendance was 1,473 in 21 games, which included 38 home runs by the Blue Jays and 33 for the opponents.
The Blue Jays will shift remaining home games to Buffalo, N.Y., and Sahlen Field, home of the organization’s Triple-A affiliate and site of regular-season games during the shortened 2020 slate.
It’s an effort to avoid Florida’s summer rainy season. Ironically, the weather was mostly dry and perfect during the Blue Jays’ stay — only one rainout and one rain delay, both in the season’s first home series against the Los Angeles Angels.
Maybe the weather didn’t take a toll. But the Dunedin-to-Buffalo shift — along with no indication of when (or if) the Blue Jays can return to Toronto’s Rogers Centre — is inconvenient at best.
“It feels like you’ve been on the road all the time,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “But the guys haven’t complained. They just keep playing, wherever that is.
“Right now, I don’t see a challenge because the mindset is ‘Okay, we’ve got to play in Buffalo and that’s what it is.’ Moving to another place, dealing with families and a lot of other stuff, we’re doing things that other teams are not doing. But they are just playing and not complaining.”
TD Ballpark workers and local businesses weren’t complaining either. Having the Blue Jays around — if only temporarily — was a boost to the local economy. Fans of outdoor baseball liked it, too.
“It’s definitely an odd location, but very homey,” said Kate Black of Land O’Lakes.
“We had to come because it was the last opportunity to see something like this,” said Black’s husband, Ian, a longtime Blue Jays fan who has attended Dunedin spring training games for decades. “Honestly, it might be better for the team in Buffalo, closer to the home area, not so many fans rooting for the other team. But it was great to experience this and have them here.”
Garrett Lagree, a Blue Jays’ fan from Leesburg, had outfield seats Monday. In previous games, he sat behind home plate and down the third-base line.
“I have enjoyed it, but we are outnumbered (by Rays’ fans),” Lagree said. “I know the Rays deal with that, too, at home games. The Blue Jays are an exciting young team. If they can grind through all this traveling and two different home fields and still make the playoffs, they will have earned it.”
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