May 1 - At The Ballpark: Knology Park, Dunedin, FL
Knology Park should, on its face, be one of the prime tourist destinations in the Florida State League.
The spring training home of the Toronto Blue Jays features a large complex for both the parent club
and the Dunedin franchise, is in a quiet neighborhood and is a block (or so) from the beautiful Gulf of
Mexico. The park is less than 20 years old (having opened in 1990) and is surrounded by beauty, but
does the ballpark live up to its surroundings? Let's find out.
To call the concessions at Knology Park uninspiring is an understatement. I tried a disappointingly
small slice of pepperoni pizza from a local establishment sold through the concession stand, and it
was both overpriced for its size ($2.75) and not all that good. The soda choices are also very lacking,
as there were only four Pepsi products advertised as being available. If you don't drink regular sodas,
learn a taste for Diet Pepsi or water, as that will be all you can have. The food choices are also very
pedestrian, with Cracker Jacks, french fries, popcorn and hot dogs, among other basic things.
Between-innings entertainment: C
The Blue Jays feature a between-innings master of ceremonies (which was laughable considering
the lack of bodies in the seats – more on this later), and most of the entertainment was standard
fare. There was an eating contest (pizza was the food of choice on the night), a mascot race
(seriously, this has to be the fifteenth mascot race I've seen in the last year, and just once, I would
give a ballpark an A+ if they would invite an older fan on the field and have the mascot actually try to
beat them), and a dancing thing where the Dunedin mascot (D-Jay...innovative, huh?) danced around
for the few fans in attendance. The music between innings was pretty good, but the rest of it was
Sight lines: C
As previously mentioned, the park is in a residential area, and as such, is limited in the amount of
land it can use. There is no concourse ringing the outfield, and the concession areas are behind the
seating bowl, so trying to sneak a peek at the game while getting something to eat is a challenge.
Also, the bullpens are both hidden from fans – the visitors' bullpen is near the left field corner and
behind a fence (and a batting cage), and the home bullpen is behind the right field fence. Fans like to
watch pitchers warming up, and this is a virtually impossible pursuit at Knology Park. The view of the
game from anywhere in the seating bowl is a good one, and the seats feel very close to the action.
They are also well-angled, which is something rare for minor league parks.
Knology Park gets a first for me, in that I am grading them on overall promotions, not just what was
conducted the night of my visit. Despite the Roy Halladay magnetic schedule being given on the night
I took in a game (which is not a bad promotion, I suppose), the Blue Jays have a recurring promotion
schedule. Sundays are City of Dunedin Days, Mondays are Belly Buster BBQ Night (all-you-can-eat
barbecue and game ticket for $15), Tuesdays BOGO Night (buy one get one free on food items), Web
Wednesdays (offers available on the Dunedin website), Thirsty Thursdays ($1 drink specials),
Knology Night on Fridays (a Knology cable bill gets you four tickets, four programs, four drinks and
four hot dogs for $24 – an outstanding value) and Saturdays are Junior Jays Saturdays. These
recurring promotions may draw more fans on certain nights, but the idea is a good one. Also, the
Jays have enacted a Fan Advisory Board to solicit opinions from the community on how they are
doing. This is something that would be guaranteed to work in a lot of minor-league markets, and
should be investigated.
Again, due to the land restrictions this park encounters, there is not a tremendous amount of parking
on the property at Knology Park. There are several (not very well-marked) areas to park surrounding
the field, but none of the areas hold many vehicles. I would imagine parking is also available on the
surface streets surrounding the park, but I did not see any signs indicating such.
Quality of baseball: B
This was actually a pretty well-played game. The Sarasota Reds defeated the home-standing Blue
Jays 5-1 behind a solid pitching performance from right-hander Carlos Fisher, who had defeated the
Jays five days earlier in Sarasota, and gave up his first earned run in over 20 innings pitched on the
season in this contest. Sarasota hit the ball rather well, including good performances from catcher
Craig Tatum (3-4, 2 doubles), first baseman Jeremiah Piepkorn (3-4, and is inexplicably still in
Sarasota, where he was in 2005 when last I saw this club – he is leading the Reds in hitting after the
first month) and third baseman Michael Griffin (3-5). Fisher scattered four hits over six innings for the
victory in the game, and Dunedin starter Kurt Isenberg deserved a better fate than he got, giving up
seven hits over five to go along with three earned runs. Dunedin is a very good defensive club who
has just now started to hit, and Sarasota was very fundamentally solid both at the plate and on
Overall grade: A+
I know what you're saying. “Brian, how on earth can you give this park an A+ after all the C scores?”
Fear not, fair reader, for I shall explain. This park is everything that is right about small-town
baseball. It is proud of its heritage, as evidenced by the “Players from Dunedin to 'The Show'” display
on the first-base concourse. Every player who played in Dunedin and made it to the big leagues has
his name inside a blue baseball graphic – even the guys who only got a cup of coffee. The more
famous Dunedin alumni are immortalized on large white banners that hang along the ring of the
stadium, with their name, number and an action photo. Finally – and this is the absolute most
important part of the experience – there were a number of Blue Jay employees standing at the gates,
and they went out of their way to say “thank you” to the fans leaving the ballpark. Granted, the
announced attendance was 402, and there were 64 fans remaining in the top of the ninth (I counted),
but this is a wonderful touch. I cannot emphasize enough how good I felt leaving that ballpark
knowing that people took the time to actually thank me (and all the other patrons) leaving the park for
taking a few hours of my time. In a game and an era where fans are taken for granted, I really felt
good about that, and no one there knew who I was, where I was from or that I was there to review their
park, and I don't honestly think they cared. I wish they could draw more people to this park, because I
really think people would enjoy their stay.
How to get there:
The stadium is located at 345 Douglas Avenue in Dunedin, and is really quite complicated to get to at
the moment due to all the construction in the Clearwater area. The easiest way to get there is to take
Florida Highway 60 to Clearwater, then get on US 19 headed north. Once you pass Bright House
Networks Field in Clearwater (the home of the Clearwater Threshers, the Phillies' A-ball affiliate in the
Florida State League, and a park I have also reviewed in the past) at the corner of 19 and Drew, there
will be an exit for local traffic (as of this writing). Take this exit to Sunset Point, and proceed west
(left). Stay on Sunset Point to Douglas, then turn right on Douglas. You should see the ballpark
shortly ahead on the right. It may be best to consult with the Blue Jay office to find the best way there,
due to all of the US 19 construction in Clearwater.
You may also want to see:
Gulf beaches. The ballpark is near a number of beautiful Gulf coast beach areas, including Dunedin
Beach, Clearwater Beach, and several to the south. The Gulf is, as stated earlier, a block from the
park, and there are several breathtaking views within steps. Dunedin is a very small community
(35,000 people or so), but has some rather nice places to stay that are very close to the beach.