The best team in both the Florida State League and the Toronto Blue Jays farm system played a doubleheader in front of no fans yesterday.
This wasn’t a case of a team not drawing well on a steamy July afternoon, when the beach or air conditioned malls beckoned minor league baseball fans in the Dunedin area.
The Dunedin Blue Jays have been forced to play their home games at Jack Russell Stadium in nearby Clearwater, a park which once housed the Phillies’ FSL affiliate a decade and a half ago, but has clearly seen better days. The former Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is undergoing renovations as part of the Blue Jays (with help from the town and state) multi-million dollar overhaul of their spring training facilities.
Every game is pretty much a road game for the D-Jays.
Yesterday’s doubleheader was scheduled for Jack Russell, but wet grounds there forced a move to the Blue Jays Bobby Mattick minor league complex, which is undergoing construction as well, and is off limits to fans this season.
Yesterday’s twin bill was the 15th for Dunedin this season. June is the rainy season in Florida, and last month was no exception, as the D-Jays found themselves postponed on four occasions. This month, that number has gone up to five. As well, a number of games this year have been suspended by rain, only to be made up before the regularly scheduled game the following day.
Despite these challenging conditions, Dunedin has the best record in the Florida State League with a 61-38 record, and has already clinched a post-season berth by winning the northern division first half title. They lead the pitcher-friendly league in hitting, and the pitching staff is among the league leaders in several categories.
Other than the departed Nate Pearson, Dunedin has had no top prospects on its roster this season. Alejandro Kirk might be the biggest name, prospect-wise, but otherwise this is a team of decent players who all seem to be having strong seasons. OF Cal Stevenson got off to a slow start, but sits third in hitting in the league. Ryan Noda leads in RBI and is among the leaders in OPS. Cullen Large missed about a month with a shoulder injury, but has been the team’s most consistent hitter, and Ottawa native Demi Orimoloye was the FSL Player of the Month after a torrid June.
On the pitching side, the D-Jays have been led by Maximo Castillo, one of the youngest players in the league, who has emerged as a staff ace with the departures of Pearson and Joey Murray to AA. Nick Allgeyer, Turner Larkins, and Graham Spraker have compiled almost 40 starts between them, and the rotation was fortified last month by the addition of Josh Winckowski from Lansing.
Two years ago, the D-Jays won their first FSL title, a co-championship forced by the impending arrival of Hurricane Irma. That side, of course, was led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio. This year’s edition may not have the marquee names, but they look to have an excellent capturing the franchise’s second league championship.
Our good friend Baseball Betsy took her readers on a tour of Jack Russell earlier this season, and you can get a really good sense of what the place looks like by watching her YouTube video: