The Dunedin/Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training Experience: Part 1

In the first part of this posting, I will look at the Dunedin area and things to do. The second part will deal with the baseball. Let’s get to it!

Part 1: Dunedin
Read Part 2 here!

(also check out our Spring Training adventures from the following season!)

Dunedin Florida

Dunedin is a sleepy little retirement community just north of Clearwater, Florida. The name comes from the Scots Gaelic Dùn Èideann meaning Edinburgh.  You can tell there is a great deal of Scottish influence here, with street names such as Douglas, Scotland, Aberdeen etc. Dunedin has maintained and embraced its Scottish roots, and evidence of this heritage can be seen everywhere. Once a year, Scottish clans descend upon the city for the Dunedin Highland Games. The sound of bagpipes is commonly heard throughout the city.

dunedin highland games
dunedin highland games

Since 1977, Dunedin is the spring training home of the Toronto Blue Jays, as well as the class-A Minor League Dunedin Blue Jays of the Florida State League. Dunedin is one of the smallest communities used by Major League spring training teams. Knology Park is situated next to the Dunedin Public Library a few blocks south of downtown on Douglas Avenue, and is just two blocks east of Edgewater Drive. Knology Park was built as a replacement to Grant Field, the Blue Jays’ first spring training ball park.
Welcome Back
Where to stay? Not knowing the area that well, I ended up getting a good deal on the Holiday Inn Express on Ulmerton Road which is pretty close to St. Petersburg, which is a little ways south of Dunedin.  It is about a 20 minute drive to the ballpark which is not a big deal.  However, now that I know the area a little better I would not be too stuck up to stay in one of the “Flamingo Motels” that line Edgewater Road/Highway 19 that runs down the coast.  By the looks of things, the most popular place to stay is the Best Western Yacht Harbor which is right at the Dunedin Harbour a few minutes away from the ballpark. There are also a bunch of hotels on the Clearwater “strip” if you choose to engage in some nightlife.

Where to eat? The first night I arrived in Dunedin I hit up a Mexican Restaurant called “Casa Tina’s” at around 10:00 pm. Even at such a late hour the place was packed and bustling.
Casa Tina's
This place has without a doubt the best Mexican food I have had outside of Mexico.  The first night I had Tamales con Rajas y Queso (Tamales with cheese and an onion/pepper combination) that were out of this world.  I also sampled a Rick Bayless favourite, Cochinita Pibil, where pork is marinated in a Yucatecan spice called “achiote” and then smoked in a palm covered pit for 12+ hours. Outstanding.
Que Pasa Amigos?
I had to return 2 days later and was pleased again.  I sampled the carnitas that were cooked to perfection and also had some very flavourful carne asada.  Casa Tina’s features an extensive drink list, including a vast list of Mexican beers, Aguas Frescas (including my two favourites – Horchata and Jamaica [Jamaica is an iced tea of sorts brewed from Hibiscus petals]) and house specialties – including Brazil’s national drink, Caipirinha.  The first night I had a spectacular Margarita that shook me to my core but left me wanting more.

The decor is fun and has a definite Dios de los Muertos feel to it. I highly recommend that any Mexican food lover takes the trip.
Casa Tina's
If seafood is your thing, a good place to go is Sea Sea Rider’s. It is right near the harbour and has a nice little front porch where you can feel the breeze off the ocean while enjoying one of their (overly sweet) cinnamon sangrias. Apparently they have great grouper sandwiches, but I had the vanilla-rum glazed grouper with a curry/coconut milk sauce and macadamia brittle.  All of those flavours definitely overwhelmed the grouper but it was still a good dish. Okay, lets get down to brass tacks. A few years ago, Sportsnet would prime the pump of Jays fans by doing a mini documentary of the Jays at Spring Training – interviewing them, following them around and the like.  One memorable bit involved then-Jays Catcher Gregg Zaun.  Gregg was followed to “Lenny’s” in Clearwater where he remarked “Some people don’t like breakfast and some people do. I like breakfast” as he proceeded to devour a tall stack of pancakes.  I asked the waitress about Lenny’s and she called it “hardcore”. So to say I was excited to go is an understatement.
Lenny'sLenny's Entrance


Lenny’s is right beside the Phillies’ spring training ballpark, Bright House Field (which puts the Jays park to shame – it is a beautiful ballpark).  Because of this fact, Lenny’s is full of Phillies memorabilia which is a bit of a drag.  However, in one little corner of heaven exists an autographed Gregg Zaun jersey and bat.
Gregg Zaun ShrineZaun Jersey

The caption on the jersey reads, “To the gang at Lenny’s. Continued success & thanks for making the best gravy around! Gregg Zaun #9”. I had eggs sunny side up with 4 pancakes and a “mixed grill of sorts” – bacon, sausage link, sausage patty (greasy as hell) and Canadian Bacon… which turned out to be just straight up ham. Best pancakes ever, add in some freshly squeezed Florida OJ and a complimentary basket of phenomenal pastries and you have the best breakfast ever.

What to do? Well, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot to do in this neck of the woods except golf and hit the beach.  Being the pasty white boy from Canada that I am who hasn’t seen the sun in months, I decided to hit the beach.  Caladesi beach is across from Dunedin and to get there you have to take a $5 ferry over from Honeymoon Island.  It is, however, the #1 rated beach in all of the USA.
Caladesi Island
There are lots of birds in the area, Pelicans, Egrets and the like so if you are a bird watching nerd, you will be in your glory.  I wasn’t too stuck up to take a few pics of them myself.
Lone Pelican loversBird watches sunset
How’s the weather? With the warm temperatures and proximity to the ocean, you would be right to believe that the climate is humid.  However, it is not Toronto type humidity that wraps around you like a sticky sheet and won’t let go – it is a soft humidity that caresses you as it walks by.  Ok, not really, but it was perpetually breezy when I was there so humidity is not a factor.  Also, bring some sunscreen.  Sitting in a ballpark with the sun beating down on you for 3 hours with a moderate breeze is a recipe for skin-blistering sunburns for sure.  And with that, the sun sets on Part 1 of the Dunedin/Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training Experience.
Dunedin Sunset

Oh, one more thing before I forget.  The esteemable Jeff Blair of the Globe & Mail clued me in to a great radio station to listen to in Dunedin, WMNF.   He states:

AM, FM, it doesn’t matter. The west coast of Florida is a radio wasteland, with the exception of local lefty, tree-hugging station WMNF.

The rest of it is religious stuff, generic, non-offensive Eighties stuff, country twangin’ and hip-hop drivel. WMNF’s got a couple of sweet shows: Soul Party on Friday, which plays real soul music — the stuff that inspires real musicians, and Latin Salsa and Jazz on Saturday, with Luis (Speedy) Gonzalez. This week was a big tribute to Joe Cuba, a big Latin boogaloo guy who passed away. This was World Music before it got its own section at HMV.

Unfortunately they were in the midst of a funding drive, but I still experienced one set that included BB King, George Clinton & Tito Puente. Outstanding.

Read Part 2 here!

(also check out our Spring Training adventures from the following season!)

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