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April 19 - At The Ballpark: Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland, FL

Lakeland, Florida is the home of the historic Tigertown spring training complex.  The stadium was
built in 1966 on the site of a World War II flying school.  The stadium underwent an extensive
renovation earlier in this decade to try to make the ballpark among the nicest on the Florida spring
training circuit.  Was that goal accomplished?   Let’s find out.

Concessions: A-
Everything available at Joker Marchant is basically standard ballpark fare (hot dogs, nachos, pretzels,
etc.), but the portions are certainly ample and the prices are quite reasonable.  Nachos and a
souvenir soda were $7, and the nachos were both very good and very plentiful.  There was a Little
Caesars pizza booth (not surprising, considering the connection with Mike Ilitch), but it was not open,
which was disappointing.

Between-innings entertainment: F
The baseball experience is kept mostly pristine in Lakeland, but the few attempts at entertainment
were weak, at best.  There were a few commercials on the video board, a musical chairs contest, a
lipsynching contest between two women (what place does this have in a ballpark?) and some trivia
questions with a team employee named Darla.  The musical selection also left a lot to be desired.  It
is pretty obvious that Lakeland is more concerned about the product on the field than the between-
innings festivities, but they should at least make a bit more of an effort.

Sight lines:  B
Joker Marchant Stadium affords fans many beautiful views (including the “money shot” type view as
the walk through the tunnel to the concourse opens up to an expansive look at the playing surface),
but there was no way to get out onto the berm seating area, and the bleachers down the left field line
were blocked off.  There was also no way to get any further down the right field line than just beyond
the first-base bag, as there is an office building towering over the right field corner.  The seats that are
available give you a good view of the action from any angle.

Promotions: NA
There were no promotions being conducted on this night.  When looking at the schedule, there did
not appear to be a large number of upcoming promotions.  As stated earlier, Lakeland appears to like
to keep the baseball experience as pristine as possible.

Parking: A
The parking situation in Lakeland is nearly ideal.  There is a lane in the front of the stadium in which
passengers can be dropped off or picked up, and there is ample parking mere steps from the
entrance to the park.  All of the parking at Joker Marchant Stadium is free, an added plus.  Also, there
are multiple points of egress from the park, making exiting the park after a game that much easier.  

Quality of baseball: C
For a matchup of several top prospects, this was not the most well-played doubleheader I've seen.  
The first game featured lefty pitchers Ryan Mullins (Fort Myers and Vanderbilt University) and Andrew
Miller (#6 overall draft pick from North Carolina in 2006 and Lakeland), and neither man figured in the
decision.  Lakeland lost both games, 5-4 and 6-4.  Both teams swung at a number of bad pitches
and made some fielding mistakes -- including Lakeland catcher Dusty Ryan, who, despite multiple
home runs, should never be allowed to don the catcher's gear again.  Lakeland manager Kevin
Bradshaw had perhaps the biggest gaffe of all, however, as he took out pitcher Ricky Steik in game
two while he was still throwing well to go to a lefty-lefty matchup.  The lefthanded pitcher, Paul
Hammond, promptly gave up the Lakeland lead and eventually lost the game.  Single-A is not the
level at which to utilize lefty-lefty matchups.  

Something else that does not go into this grade is that the individual running the scoreboard really
needs some education on what is a hit and what is an error.  A ball going through a man's legs is not
a hit.  A play that could be made with a reasonable amount of effort is not a hit.  While the players
likely appreciated the padded stats, the lack of knowledge displayed in judging these balls as hits is
embarrassing.

Overall grade: B-
While I am certainly a fan of “old school” baseball, the experience in Lakeland is not modern enough.  
The  announced attendance on this night was 486, and it felt as though the crowd was even smaller.  
The stadium was completely silent on a number of occasions, and every bit of action that went on at
field level was audible.   The people at the ballpark were nice enough – including one usher who
spoke with my father for multiple innings – but the lack of atmosphere was palpable.  There was not
even really anything to keep fans entertained between games, save for the requisite Carrie
Underwood hit “Before He Cheats”, which has as much place in a ballpark as an orchestra chamber.  
There wasn't anything really not enjoyable about the park, save for the lack of atmosphere, but there
wasn't anything truly remarkable about it, either.

How to get there:
Joker Marchant Stadium is located in Lakeland, almost equidistant between Tampa and Orlando on
Interstate 4.  Take I-4 to exit 33 (Florida Highway 33) and follow the signs to Tigertown and Joker
Marchant Stadium.  Tigertown and Joker Marchant are easily located via a sign outside the facility,
and is on the left as you enter Lakeland on FL 33 (via CR 582) from the interstate.

You may also want to see:
--Cypress Gardens.  Located near Winter Haven (just a 15-20 minute drive or so from Lakeland),
Cypress Gardens is a combination nature park and assortment of rides.  The park is populated with
several roller coasters, rides and nature exhibits.  The park opened in 1936 and is one of central
Florida's most popular attractions.
--Dinosaur World.  This park is located off Interstate 4 in Plant City, about 15 minutes away from
Lakeland, and pretty much halfway between Lakeland and Tampa.  If you are into all things
prehistoric, this is your kind of place.  This is a great location for kids, or for curious adults.