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How the Blue Jays chose sleepy Dunedin for spring training home

DUNEDIN, Fla. — There had been no glamour spots to decide on from again in 1976, when the fledgling Toronto Blue Jays commenced searching for a new spring household. The primary spots in Florida had been now taken and it was cities on the make, searching for a enhance in exposure and standing by internet hosting a major-league club throughout instruction camp, that came calling.

“The dilemma was not obtaining a spot, it was obtaining the correct spot,” Paul Beeston, the club’s initially staff who is now president emeritus, says around the cell phone, guffawing at the memory. “None of them had been heading to have a important-league calibre stadium, but again then, no one experienced the sort of facilities that are currently the norm.

“Cecil Englebert, who was the mayor of Dunedin at the time, was promoting major time for us to arrive down there. They had been by far the most aggressive.”

Dunedin received the working day again in 1976 and Thursday will mark the 43rd straight 12 months that the Blue Jays open camp in the sleepy tiny metropolis 35 kilometres west of Tampa, just north of neighbouring Clearwater, with their initially exercise routine for pitchers and catchers.

That uninterrupted operate has survived Blue Jays’ threats to leave in 1997 (when the metropolis issued a news release declaring the team would leave as early as the next spring), a near partnership with the Houston Astros on a shared Palm Beach front Gardens complex scuttled in 2014 by problems from neighbouring inhabitants, and the club’s current demand from customers for a condition-of-the-artwork instruction facility, one that was finally fulfilled, primary to a new 25-12 months lease.

Do the job has now started on the new facility on the Bobby Mattick Coaching Centre site (which is closed to supporters this spring since of the development), though a refurbishment of Dunedin Stadium, which was designed in 1990 on the site of the original Grant Field and renovated in February 2002, starts once the pre-season ends.

Inventive renderings of the Toronto Blue Jays’ new spring instruction facility in Dunedin, Fla. (Photograph courtesy: Toronto Blue Jays)

“If you consider the ballpark is quaint correct now, you should have found (Grant Field) again then since it was very little much more than what we could get in touch with a fairgrounds ballpark — it was as straightforward as that,” says Beeston. “What’s now the Bobby Mattick facility was just two diamonds — but we did not even have a farm team at that issue, so it all would get the job done out properly for us.”

The Blue Jays began their preliminary lookup for a spring household by sending Gerry Snyder, the late Montreal sports activities insider and metropolis councillor credited with helping safe the Expos, on a tour of a variety of prospective web-sites. He advised Dunedin to then president and GM Peter Bavasi, who endorsed the final decision and attained board approval for it.

“I want a spot where we can establish an identity with Toronto,” Bavasi explained to the Toronto Star soon after an settlement was attained in August 1976.

Encouraging sway the Blue Jays on Dunedin then, as now, had been two utilitarian selling details:

• It’s only a 30-minute push from the Tampa airport, serviced with multiple everyday flights to and from Toronto, to Dunedin Stadium

• There is a convenient cluster of groups nearby again then it was the Phillies in Clearwater, the Mets and Cardinals in St. Petersburg, the Reds in Tampa, and the Pirates in Bradenton, today it’s still the Phillies in Clearwater and the Pirates in Bradenton, together with the Yankees in Tampa, and Orioles in Sarasota.

“You could place a spring instruction schedule with each other incredibly easily — it all made perception from a geography issue of view,” says Beeston. “The one dilemma with Dunedin is that we realized we had been by no means heading to have the important-league and insignificant-league (sides) with each other as extensive as we stayed there since there’s no house to place in a 4-diamond clover leaf by the stadium.”

That was the principal worry existing Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro experienced though negotiating the offer on the approaching upgrades. Dunedin Stadium and the Bobby Mattick Coaching Centre are 5.5 kilometres aside, which is only a 10-minute push in very good site visitors but still produces a gulf among the two groups.

The Blue Jays operate their major-league camp out of Dunedin Stadium with the insignificant-leaguers at Bobby Mattick, but once the new facility is up and managing up coming spring, all operations will be centred out of the complex, with gamers busing around to the ballpark for Grapefruit League games.

Pinellas County is footing the major share of the monthly bill for the task, contributing $41.7 million. The Blue Jays are kicking in $20 million, the condition of Florida is contributing $13.7 million, and the metropolis of Dunedin is furnishing almost $6 million in addition land.

Not poor for a metropolis that did not even have a shopping mall when the Blue Jays initially arrived in 1977.

“We watched Dunedin expand,” says Beeston. “It experienced probably 4 or 5 outlets downtown at that issue. At one time, Highway 19 experienced very little on it as you went north on it. You did not see all the malls that are there at the current time. So we’ve been there as the metropolis has grown and it’s a wonderful spot.”

NOTES: The Blue Jays are near to a insignificant-league offer that will reunite them with Canadian correct-hander John Axford. The indigenous of Port Dover, Ont., made clear throughout the Baseball Canada awards banquet past thirty day period that he was searching for a return to Toronto. … Infielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and his older brother, Houston Astros utility person Yulieski Gurriel, are now currently being represented by Magnus Sports.

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