DUNEDIN, Fla. — The Red Sox usually play the Blue Jays here once or twice during spring training. It’s a long road trip the veteran players try to avoid.
David Ortiz somehow always decided it would be better if he stayed back and worked on his swing when a bus ride from Fort Myers to Dunedin was on the schedule.
TD Ballpark, built in 1990, was renovated in 2019 and it needed it. The visitor’s clubhouse was a concrete cube a few steps from the parking lot that looked more like a prison rec room.
The visiting manager had such a small office that the postgame press conference was usually held outside. Terry Francona once had to shush fans clamoring for his autograph so he could hear our questions.
But there is no skipping Dunedin this week. The first-place Red Sox started an important three-game series against the second-place Blue Jays on Tuesday night.
There was something nostalgic about seeing a major league game played in such a modest setting. There are only 20 rows of seats from the field to the top of the grandstand and no seats in the outfield, only standing room.
Ready to go in Dunedin. pic.twitter.com/VeI8vhzmJ0— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) May 18, 2021
The VFW post across Douglas Ave. charges only $20 for parking and had attendants waving US and Canadian flags at passing cars trying to lure them in. It was a 90-second walk from there to the gate behind home plate.
The Dunedin Public Library, visible over the right field fence, had a “Go Jays” sign out front and the Gulf of Mexico is just down the street.
To maintain social distancing protocols, the Jays have zip-tied cardboard cutouts onto about a third of the seats between first base and third base. So actual people, many of them Red Sox fans, were sitting next to facsimile people in the crowd of 1,566.
With games being broadcast back to Canada, the outfield had signs for Tim Hortons coffee shops and other Canadian businesses.
The Blue Jays built a large white tent behind the third base stands for visiting teams. It’s air conditioned and includes room for all the athletic trainers, analysts, and other staff members who go on the road.
The visiting clubhouse here in Dunedin is a tent behind the third base stands. Alex Cora said the Jays did a good job with the facilities. pic.twitter.com/Q2NzgD1Dpo— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) May 18, 2021
There’s a weight room and a batting cage, too.
“They did an amazing job with the clubhouse and the facility to accommodate us and the visiting teams,” Sox manager Alex Cora said before an 8-0 loss. “It’s great.”
Cora said he was interested to see what the setup would be like and arrived early in the day to check it out.
“I was impressed,” the manager said. “Great job by the Jays and the people who took care of this place.”
The biggest difference is the wind. Without a larger stadium to block it, it whips out to right center. The first 14 games here averaged just under 11 runs.
Get the ball in the air to right center here and it’s never coming back. pic.twitter.com/NLc0r2xEJY— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) May 19, 2021
“It’s not easy to play here,” Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “The wind is everywhere and sometimes you lose the ball.”
The Jays also pushed the start time back to 7:37 p.m. to avoid the setting sun behind home plate blinding the outfielders.
The Sox managed only five hits off Hyun Jun Ryu and three relievers and advanced one runner as far as third. The Jays pounded Eduardo Rodriguez and Matt Andriese for 18 hits, the most allowed by the Sox this season.
The Jays are here because the Canadian government has imposed strict coronavirus protocols that wouldn’t allow travelers from the United States into the country without a two-week quarantine.
That obviously wouldn’t work during a baseball season and the government wasn’t inclined to grant exemptions for the sake of games.
The Jays played home games at their Triple A ballpark in Buffalo last summer. But given what can be raw spring weather in upstate New York, the team decided to play their first 21 home games here before moving to Buffalo on June 1.
There is hope Canada will permit the Jays to return to Rogers Centre in Toronto by August or September. It’s possible the Sox could play the Jays on the road at three different ballparks this season.
MLB has played regular-season games at a Single A ballpark in Williamsport, Pa., in conjunction with the Little League World Series and occasional series in Japan, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.
But those were all just single games or one series. This is an extended stay and the Jays have handled it well. Their 10-5 home record is the best in the division.
Montoyo said his players have done a good job of maintaining their perspective.
“We don’t make any excuses,” he said. “One of the reasons we’ve done well is we don’t complain. We just play.”
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.