(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues Baseball.com)
Just to the west of Clearwater, along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and on the northern reaches of the Tampa Bay area lies Dunedin, birthplace of the voice of Space Ghost and home to the Dunedin Blue Jays, Class-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Last Saturday, I made my second trip to Dunedin. Although I was there a few years ago for a spring training game, this past weekend I made it a priority to do some sightseeing first. A few blocks away from Dunedin Stadium, formerly Knology Park, is Dunedin’s quaint downtown area. It is the type of quiet downtown you probably won’t see on generic postcards of Florida with their pink flamingos, palm trees, and Mickey Mouse homages, but it is the type of downtown that is a true welcome respite from the hustle, bustle, glitz, glamor, and fast-paced city life of places like Tampa, Orlando, or Miami. Dunedin is little shops and restaurants, bike paths and parks.
And to be honest, I could definitely see myself ending up in a place like Dunedin, probably owning a bar or a pizza place and working on the next great American novel.
After getting a bite to eat at a slightly overpriced Mexican restaurant, I made my way to the ballpark to see the aforementioned Dunedin Blue Jays take on the Clearwater Threshers. Besides being a battle of two of the top teams in the Florida State League North Division, and a chance to see top prospects such as Blue Jays catcher Travis D’Arnaud and Treshers outfielder Anthony Gose, Saturday was also the fifth (or sixth) birthday of the Dunedin Blue Jays mascot, D-Jay. In the house to celebrate with their fine blue feathered friend was Rocky the Bull of the University of South Florida, Blue of the Tampa Yankees, Phinley of the Clearwater Threshers (awkward!), Lucky Dog of Aaron’s Furniture, Rocket of Jet’s Pizza, and a big green pickle person.
Also at the park to join in the festivities were nearly 200 local area Boy and Girl Scouts. Although friends with D-Jay, the scouts were part of their own promotion – they not only got to interact with the Blue Jay ballplayers and staff, but also were set to camp out in the outfield.
As I arrived at the stadium, many of these scouts were lined up along the first base line and given a rousing round of applause for doing all the things scouts do and being fine young role models and future leaders. While on the field, the scouts also had a chance to mingle with the mascots, which was always good for a few laughs and smiles.
After a few more minutes of mascot shenanigans, hi-jinxs, and tomfoolery, the Dunedin Blue Jays took the field and the game began. By the third inning however, it was obvious the Threshers were going to be in control. With starter Austin Hyatt stymieing the Blue Jays and the Threshers’ hitters hammering Dunedin hurlers Andrew Liebel and Ryan Page, Clearwater cruised to a 9-2 victory.
During the game I had a chance to not only talk to Dunedin Blue Jays Assistant GM Janette Donoghue, who was a kind and very busy host, but also with John Ruckart, Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 64 from Oldsmar, Florida. According to Ruckart, the boys of Scout Troop 64 decided as a group to be a part of the ballpark event instead of going to their already scheduled weekend camp-out.
“We are a boy-led and boy-run organization,” Ruckart said. He also mentioned that because most of the scouts were Tampa Bay Rays fans, they were rooting for Dunedin to beat Clearwater, as the Threshers are a Phillies farmteam and of course, the Phillies defeated the Rays in the 2008 World Series.
(Oddly enough, to make the whole situation weird, at that very moment the Rays were playing the Toronto Blue Jays in St. Petersburg, about an hour south of Dunedin.)
After the Threshers victory, after most of the crowd had left, and as the groundscrew began their nightly yardwork, the 34 scouts of Boy Scout Troop 64 and all the other scouts, parents, brothers, and sisters began their descent on to the field, with Boy Scouts in centerfield and the Girl Scouts in right. Within less than 20 minutes, nearly 2/3 of the outfield was covered in tents and other sleeping shelters. It was as if a little village had sprung up where once ballplayers roamed.
And while John Melloncamp was able to sing his classic “Centerfield” in centerfield at the postgame concert at Tropicana Field, the 198 scouts at Dunedin Stadium could have one-upped the rocker with their own similar tune.
“Look at me, I can sleep, in the outfield.”
(Picture taken shows the Girl Scout tents in front and the Boy Scout tents to the back.)