Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, FLORIDA
Number of states: 9
States to go: 41
Number of games: 1
First game: April 11, 2005 (Sarasota Reds 5, Dunedin Blue Jays 1)
Ed Smith Stadium and Sarasota were my introduction to the Florida State League and to the ballparks the big-league clubs use for their Spring Training. It was my introduction to High-A baseball and the Florida State League. While I was impressed with the quality of baseball I saw on this night–it’s a long way from the short-season ball I’m accustomed to seeing from my home minor-league team at Memorial Stadium in Everett–there was something missing about the entire culture of this ballpark that I’m concerned might be unique to the Florida State League and playing ball in a park that the big club uses in the spring.
First of all, there were only 237 fans in the ballpark. Sarasota is a town of 52,000 that was packed to the gills, I’m sure, with folks on their Spring Break like I was. Why only 237 fans? I have a hypothesis. As little as a week earlier, the residents of Sarasota could watch actual major leaguers in spring training games. Perhaps they feel like it’s not worth their time to watch high-A ball. Now, I haven’t seen a Major League Spring Training game (and it’s unlikely I will in the foreseeable future…you know, I’m a teacher and all that, and my spring break is in April). I’m certain I’d enjoy it if I ever did. But I have a suspicion that these aren’t as enjoyable to a guy who likes stories as minor league games are. The stories of a spring training are interesting…who’s headed up, who’s headed down, and the like. But the games? They don’t count. It’s not worth it to say they do. The primary purpose is not to win or lose, but to impress people. I suppose that one could argue the same in the minor leagues, and there’s a bit of truth to that. But the games count for something. The stories are deeper and longer…they are stories of multiple years, where spring training stories are about who will be around that year.
Second, I feel like the town has adopted a major league club, not a minor league club. Unlike places like Yakima or Batavia, Sarasota didn’t have any “Past Sarasota Players Who Made The Majors” plaques lying around. The history they honored in the pavilion was Cincinnati’s history, not Sarasota’s. Cincinnati’s retired numbers on the wall? I think that’s wonderful for spring training, sure, but it feels dreadfully out of place for the minor league game. The kids are trying to make the show. After that, let’s worry about striving to retire the numbers. Plaques and sculptures in the pavilion dedicated to Cincinnati Reds history? Give me a break. Single-A ball is not the place for that. Leave them up for Spring Training, then focus on Florida after that. We’re about a thousand miles and three levels of ball from Cincinnati. Let’s celebrate who came from here, not the destination that many of them won’t ever see.
This might also explain why such a wonderful night of baseball didn’t have the accoutrements I normally associate with minor league ball. It looked like there wasn’t a serious effort to get butts in the seats. There was no mascot, not a lot of music, few between-innings promotions, and very little excitement. Don’t get me wrong…I don’t want a circus. But I do want something to make it feel like the ballclub is happy I’ve come, particularly when I’ve come so far. But I get the sense that they don’t want, need, or expect a crowd. Perhaps they make their year’s worth of money during Spring Training…I don’t know. But I know it didn’t feel right.
I haven’t had a chance to see any other Florida State League teams play ball–but I’m wondering if they aren’t faced with similar issues. It feels to me like the high-A ballclubs are not valued for their own sake.
Anyhoo. Enough hypothesizing about an entire league on the basis of a sample size of one.
The ballpark was fairly antiseptic…a seating bowl stretching most of the way from bullpen to bullpen. There was no real sense of place here…were it not for the palm trees past the outfield wall, I would not have known where I was. I enjoyed the advertising for a plumbing company on the foul poles…it gave the park a small-town and minor-league feel that the Reds were so obviously trying to avoid. And there was one plaque of Ed Smith himself, a man “dedicated to service of the youth of Sarasota.” Beyond that: not much exciting or locally recognizable about Ed Smith Stadium.
I happened to be in Sarasota the same week that David, a fellow teacher at my Seattle-area school, was in Sarasota. So we hooked up 3200 miles from home for a ballgame with some Floridian buddies of his. A pleasant guys’ night out was had by all. We encountered this man a few seats away. He heckled ballplayers and umpires throughout the game. Normally this bugs me, but there was something about him that was kind of good-natured. It was interesting to hear him gradually damage his vocal cords as the game wore on. More head voice, fan–support with the diaphragm, not at the throat.
The best play of the game turned out to be turned in by this kid on the right, Cody. He got, by my count, over half of the foul balls that made it into the seats. My favorite came early in the game. A batter hit a foul ball down the right field line, beyond the stands. A kid wearing red, a few years older and a few pounds heavier than Cody, was seated just past first base. He was the only person interested in the foul ball, so he started running towards the ball…then walking when he thought he had it in the bag. But my boy Cody had a bead on it. He started on the third base side of home plate, and just sprinted towards the ball. The funniest part was when the kid in red first spotted him. He realized he was in trouble and started running. Cody, in spite of surrendering about an 80-yard head start, beat him to the ball. It was incredible. And for Cody, it wasn’t about gathering or hoarding the balls, it was about the chase. Like a fisherman letting his catch go, he always gave up the foul balls he gathered. He gave the kid in red that ball, and he gave me one. Strange…I still haven’t had a chance to give a foul ball to a kid, but a kid has given one to me. Hmmm.
I also saw a bizarre pregame near-incident. I don’t have to tell you what almost happened. All you have to do is look at the picture. That’s Will Hudson talking on the phone. As this photograph is being snapped, Miguel Perez, the catcher, #37, is in the process of repeating: “Look out! Heads up! Watch out!” Hudson, apparently engrossed in conversation, is not hearing it.
The ball missed Hudson by an uncomfortably small distance. So remember, kids: Friends don’t let friends talk on cell phones on the field during long-toss.
So, to sum up: Great baseball. I’m just not sure anyone in Sarasota–including Reds’ staffers–is doing anything to convince people that a night of high-A ball can be a worthwhile night out–even more fun, in its own way, than spring training.
Regional feel: 3.5/10
There was loads of regional feel…but the region the Ohio River Valley. All I could find that said Sarasota to me was a plaque of Mr. Ed Smith and a few palm trees. Why not a little bit more to make me feel like I’m in Florida?
Not a whole lot here. Fairly standard stadium.
Next to none. If anything, I got a vibe of disinterest.
Team mascot/name: 1.5/5
No mascot. Under some circumstances, I’m okay with a name like “Reds” (as in the Appalachian League). Here, it just adds to the sense that the parent club is more important than these flesh-and-blood players in front of us.
Palm trees are pretty. The stadium is dull.
Pavilion area: 2.5/5
There was a little bit of a pavilion area–a couple of little deals pertaining to Reds history–but nothing terribly interesting or exciting. Lineups were posted with both uniform number and position–convenient. But it was, on the whole, an antiseptic, dreary place. Check out this picture of the pavilion just before the game begins. There’s nobody there and nothing to see.
A few skipped decisions.
Cody the foul ball kid was cool. The nearby heckler was nice to me, although annoying. But any park with an attendance of 237 won’t get a high score here.
Great game and good company, but I get the sense that Sarasota–including those who run the club–do not believe a high-A baseball game is worth much time or effort.
BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:
Sarasota’s fifth game as a Reds’ affiliate turned into the first win in their history as the Sarasota Reds.
Calvin Medlock, Kyle Edens, and David Shafer combined on a six-hitter.
Junior Ruiz went 4-for-4. Chris Dickerson homered.(Written April 2005. Updated July 2009.)