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September 12 - At The Ballpark: Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Daytona Beach, FL

Minor league baseball's landscape has changed quite a bit in the last few years.  New ballparks are
springing up all over in many different markets, and a lot of them look just like someone else's park.  
Even Myrtle Beach's old facility at Coastal Carolina University has been replaced with a newer park
five minutes from the Atlantic Ocean.  This is not the case in Daytona, as Jackie Robinson Ballpark is
over 90 years old, having opened in 1914.  The ballpark got its name from Jackie Robinson having
made his professional debut there.  The stadium has obviously been remodeled since its opening,
but how is the grand lady holding up?  Let’s find out.

Concessions: A+
This may not be totally fair, since the concessions were part of a
promotion (more on that in the Promotions section), but the concessions
I did get were quality and reasonably-priced.  Daytona has a wonderful
selection of concessions – including some things you won't always find
at a ballpark – and these items are served on the cheap with a smile.

Between-innings entertainment: C
The between-innings musical selection at Jackie Robinson Ballpark was actually pretty solid – about
on-par with Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.  I wish they hadn't played music in between
pitches (complete with the requisite sound effects of glass breaking when a ball was fouled off, etc.),
but I had no complaints otherwise.  The other contests were fairly forgettable, including the “let's
make a deal” contest where a fan had to choose between a foul ball from a game or something in a
box, the “who needs a haircut?” contest where fans had to decide which of two fans was more in
need of a haircut, a “dance with your duster” contest in which two fans had a dance-off involving
vacuums (don't ask), and a downright disgusting burrito eating contest.  The contests are different,
but different isn't always better.

Sight lines:  A+
The ballpark is on an island of sorts in Daytona Beach, surrounded by the Halifax River.  Fans in every
fixed seat get views of the river and the large bridge that crosses it, and the top of the general
admission bleachers (more on these in a moment) get nice views of a marina and the riverwalk
behind the seats.  When the sun sets in the ballpark, you can also see the beachfront hotels that
surround the Atlantic Ocean just minutes away.  The lights over the river make for amazing views, and
those views make this probably the most scenic ballpark I have seen in my travels.  A word to the
wise, though – if you go to the top of the bleachers to take pictures, be aware of foul balls coming at
you, as well as keeping care on the walk to the top.  There are no hand rails on the steps going up,
and all it takes is one misstep to go sliding down the steps coming back down.  If you can keep your
balance about you, the rewards are amazing.

Promotions: A+
This was a rewarding ballpark trip, as the ticket price not only got you into a seat, but also provided an
all-you-can-eat buffet.  This night was also Taste of Daytona night, where several local eating
establishments were on hand to provide free food.  The food wasn't perfect, but it was free, which
automatically made it that much better.  Along with the free food came free game programs – another
plus – and several freebies from local businesses for various accomplishments by the Cubs in the
game.  

Parking: A+
Parking is free in a number of lots surrounding the park, and the longest walk is about three minutes.  
There is a courthouse behind the right field wall that provides a nice area to park for night games.  
Egress after the game was quite easy with no traffic backups whatsoever.  There are a number of
routes to get back to the beachfront or to US 92, Dunlawton Avenue or any other major thoroughfares
out of the Daytona area.

Player accessibility: A
I didn't see too much of the pregame festivities, but I will say that what I did see was a bunch of guys
signing for fans, and the players are easy to get to in this park.  I saw the Cubs' AA affiliate earlier this
year, and their players were very accommodating to the fans, as were the Daytona Cubs, so that may
be an organizational philosophy.  The kids seemed happy, so I can say that the job was done in this
regard.

Quality of baseball: A
I never thought I could give an A grade to a game involving a team that didn't have a player batting
higher than .246, but that is the predicament in which the visiting Jupiter Hammerheads (the Marlins'
advanced A ball affiliate) found themselves.  The homestanding Cubs flashed a lot of leather on this
night, and got a wonderful pitching performance from lefty prospect Donnie Veal to record the 7-2
victory.  Of particular interest was catcher Chris Robinson, a former all-Big 10 performer at Illinois
who had just come over in a trade for Neifi Perez.  He recorded three hits on the evening, and showed
some defensive prowess behind the plate.

Overall grade: A
Jackie Robinson Ballpark is one of the nicest A-ball facilities you will ever see.  
Don't let its age fool you – the ballpark is a comfortable place, there's not a bad
seat in the house, and the breeze from the water makes your visit top-notch.  
Everyone you will encounter in the park is friendly and seems to really love
what they do.  There's even a hand-operated scoreboard, which is a true rarity
in minor league baseball (the only other one I have seen is also in the Florida
State League, 75 miles down the road in Brevard County).  You'll eat well, catch
an eyeful from anywhere in the park, and see some good baseball.  Give this
place a visit.

How to get there:
The stadium is located on Orange Avenue in downtown Daytona Beach, and is accessible by taking
Silver Beach off Atlantic Avenue, taking A1A to Orange Avenue, or taking International Speedway Blvd.
(US 92) to Beach Avenue to Orange Avenue.  Alternately, you may enter 105 E. Orange Avenue,
Daytona Beach, FL 32114 into your favorite mapping program.

You may also want to see:
--Daytona, USA:  The official interactive side of NASCAR is located a few miles away on International
Speedway Blvd. (US 92) and features rides, pit tours, and an insider look at Daytona International
Speedway.  Daytona International Speedway is one of NASCAR's “mother churches”, and the track
that took Dale Earnhardt's life.  The history of this facility alone makes it worth the visit, even if you're
not a NASCAR fan.
--Daytona Beach/Ormond Beach:  The beautiful Atlantic shore is minutes away, and you can even
drive on parts of the beach.  There are hotels available for all budget levels, and the shoreline is a
nice, relaxing getaway for families, couples and individuals who just need a break.
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