I have never heard a man laying on his death bed with seconds to live mumbling how he just didn't spend enough time in the office. What's wrong with us Dad's? Why do we keep telling ourselves that this year is going to be different? This year I will lose 20 pounds. This year I will read my Bible cover to cover. This year I will be a better father! Well, this year I will be a better father.

When you close your eyes and vision that perfect childhood memory, what do you see? For me, it was the smell of Wrigley Field (for better or worse). It was the sound of the organ, the roar of the crowd, and the electric energy that follows the game that I loved best...Baseball! I wanted those same memories for my kids. We live just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina which puts us right in the middle of some of the best minor league baseball in the country. I figure I have a good 12 years left with my kids in the house and time is flying by. I cancelled a few meetings and took them to our local ballpark.

I have 3 kids ages 6, 12, & 14. They are great kids and I love every minute that I get to spend with them. I want to start creating a legacy of memories that continue for many generations. Baseball will live long past me and will continue to provide those memories in my absence. The purpose of this blog is to not only document the moments I get to spend with my kids, but analyze every minor league ballpark in the United States. My kids will be doing the analysis as well as many of the blog posts. What ballparks are family friendly? What parks give your family the most for their money? What do the players have to say about their team and the park they play in? Who has the coolest uniforms? Right from the mouth (or fingers) of babes. That's 240 teams in 12 years, an average of 20 games per year. We might not reach our goal...but man is it going to be fun trying!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Daytona Tortugas

Daytona Tortugas - 8.4
     For most people that travel to Daytona Beach, their trip ends at the Dayton Speedway.  What they don't know and what I am imploring you to discover, is a rare gem of baseball history placed neatly on City Island by the baseball gods.  Constructed in 1914, this 102 year old icon of baseball history has seen baseball at its best and baseball at its worst.  It broke barriers in 1946 by becoming the first ballpark in America to allow a black man to play Major League Baseball in a sport dominated by the opinions of ignorant people.  Jackie Robinson, the field's namesake, first walked on to that field as a Montreal Royal given the chance by the great Branch Rickey to break the long standing color barrier.  
     "The Jack" reminds you of everything that is pure about baseball.  It is the iron and concrete, the echo of the crowd off of the old grandstands, the ghosts of baseball's past that sit next to you while cheering for your favorite player, and so many other things that immediately brought me back to my childhood.  The Daytona Tortugas are a Single A Advanced affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cubs before that.  While taking a walk around the field, we quickly noticed the "Wall of Fame."  Some of the 190 names that have made it to the Show are Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Chris Archer, Jeff Samardzija, Kerry Wood, and the great Ryne Sandburg to only name a few.
      We had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with the Tortugas General Manager, Josh Lawther.  We grabbed a drink and headed for the nearest picnic table.  It was a perfect back drop to talk baseball.  The setting sun was hitting the Halifax River just right, making the steady breeze blowing in from the ocean an almost hypnotic experience.  I could tell right away that Josh was passionate about his club.  We dove into the history as well as the future direction of the Tugas.
Parking - 9
     You would think that on a tiny island it would be difficult to find good parking.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was wrong.  Parking is located behind right field in the court house parking lot and will only cost you $2 cash.  It is a very short walk if you want to enter the park from right field but keeping with Hanging with the Minor's tradition we walked to the main entrance, and I would recommend everyone do the same.  Take a minute to get your picture taken with Jackie and give a quick salute in appreciation to everything he accomplished.
Out of Park Experience - 10
     Hello...this is Daytona Beach, do I need to say more?  You have quick access to the Dayton Speedway, plenty of food and libation options on Beach Street, and you are a short drive away from the Daytona Beach Boardwalk.  There is something to do in this town no matter what the season is.  You won't have a problem making a day of it at this park.
Ticket Price - 10
     General admission tickets can be purchased for $8 for adults and $6 for kids, seniors, and military.  There are also VIP tickets that you can purchase at the door for $12.50 which include your own wait staff...very nice!  The Tugas also provide package deals for children and seniors as well as flex plans so families can attend multiple games at a discounted rate.  They also feature what they call Belly Buster Mondays and that is exactly what it is.  For a $12 GA ticket, you can eat all that your heart (or belly) desires.  I will explain this in the food section.  Ethan and I did not take much deliberation on our score for ticket price and selection.  This is the best deal in town...a perfect 10.
Team Store - 5
     If there is one area that can be improved on at this park, this is the area.  It looks like they took an old concession area underneath the home plate grandstand and converted it into their team store.  The front of the store is exposed to the elements with a mesh net covering another side.  The apparel is located outside the concession booth for the public to browse through different t-shirst, sweatshirts, and jerseys.  I didn't like that the on-field hats were kept inside the booth and not accessible to shoppers.  These hats are like snowflakes (no two are alike) and need to be handled before purchase, especially when considering the big difference in quality between US and China made hats.  (I will explain this in a future article)  I had to settle for a China made 59Fifty for the comfortable price of $28.  The shop was convenient and the prices were fair, but it was difficult to shop and the selections were few.  Hey...we can't all be perfect.  I did like the fact that they had a merchandise guy walking around the park promoting the brand.  I have not seen this in a lot of other parks, but I like the convenience. 
Team Hat / Logo - 10
      How do you argue with Baseball Digest when they named the Daytona Tortugas as the Best New Logo/Branding for the year of 2015?  I am not going to.  After an affiliation change, the Daytona club quickly found themselves needing a complete makeover...and that is exactly what they got.  Not only was the green and white Spanish turtle well received by the home crowd, but widely accepted as "must have" merchandise across the country.  This is also the only hat that I saw at multiple parks during our tour of the Florida State League.  
Ball Park Bling - 9

     The Tortugas provide a unique experience that is very different than most parks.  They don't have huge bouncy houses, a massive series of playground sets, or beautiful fountains that dance in the sunlight.  What they do have is a lesson in baseball that all kids need to experience.  They show the sport in all of the glory that made watching players like Stan Musial, Sandy Koufax, Willy Mays, and Hank Aaron so special.  I mean this with all the sincerity I can muster when I say that I actually felt like my father getting ready to watch my baseball heroes in the 1950's.  
     You enter the park and your eyes are immediately captured by the beautiful Halifax River.  Your site line moves left to right taking in the brick courtyard and the high concrete grandstands that makes the crowds voices echo back and forth.  The night we visited was a food extravaganza.  For the price of your ticket you are given a band that gives you unlimited food samples from vendors around the community.  You also quickly notice the Jackie Robinson timeline of accomplishments along the river.  You can test your skills at the sports Jackie excelled at while at Pasadena Junior College and UCLA.  These activities include track & field, football, and basketball.  I did not want to embarrass anyone with my 2" vertical, but if the mood strikes you go ahead and measure yourself compared to Jackie.  You not only learn of the accomplishments of great leaders from the past, but you can participate in them as well.  Parents can teach their kids along with learning a few things themselves.  We are never too old to do that.  As previously re-quoted by the great Winston Churchill, "Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."    
     The Jack also features a nice playground set for kids behind the first base grandstand and plenty of room for kids to run and chase foul balls next to right field.  The most important things to remember at this park, is that you are here to watch a game and to watch the game the way it was years ago.  It is the perfect balance between young and old.
Seating - 8
     During our talk with Josh Lawther, we asked him to point us in the direction of his favorite seats.  Without hesitation he told us to head for the top row of the 3rd baseline bleachers.  Not only is it the highest elevation to watch the game and get a breeze, but the view of the bridge going over the Halifax River on its way to the ocean is absolutely breathtaking.  If you consider yourself a ball hunter, this is also a great location.  Have your glove ready because it is a magnet for a left hander foul.
     I would also recommend checking out the grandstand.  They are actual seats compared to the bleachers and great protection during the rain.  The only negative is the direct beams from the sun.  This area is very bright so either bring your sun glasses or move to the bleachers out of the sun.  You can also try the Bullpen in right field if you are feeling thirsty and want to have a conversation with the team's pitching staff.

Food - 9
     We were lucky to be invited to the park on Belly Buster Monday.  We had unlimited access to pizza, ice-cream, burgers, fish tacos, and much, much more.  There was very little wait and plenty of seating to sit back and enjoy the ambiance.  We did purchase a soda for $3 and a Wendy's Frosty, which by the way is considered a separate category on Ethan's food group chart.  If you come on a regular day you will find the food prices are much like their tickets, low in cost and plenty of options to choose from.  The Tugas also cater to the fans of the visiting clubs.  For example if the visiting team is the farm club of the Yankees, then they will feature a signature New York dish.  Based on the Frosty alone, Ethan scored the food a high 9.
Bathrooms - 7
     The bathrooms were what you would expect of a ballpark that has been around longer than your grandpa.  They were old and allowed you to do the basic necessities that a bathroom should.  I will say that they were clean and the smell wasn't too pungent, although I would not spend any more time than necessary hanging around in them.
Hype Man / Mascot - 7
     Shelldon, the Tortugas mascot,  seemed to not only be a favorite of the kids but of the adults as well.  My heart goes out to mascots that perform their duties flawlessly while baking in the hot Florida sun.  I can almost hear them thinking they wish they were Bob Brown Bear or one of his infamous Sushi Mascots of the Vancouver Canadians short season team.  You got to love that northern climate.  Regardless of the heat, Shelldon had good energy (for a turtle) and spent time taking pics with all the fans.
     The Tugas did not use an on-field hype man for this game.  If you have read my past blogs, you know how I feel about that combination.  Mid-inning entertainment has been around for decades and the proper pairing seems to bring the crowd together the most.
Kid's Thoughts - 8.4
     Since this was Ethan's favorite stadium so far, I will let him sum up the experience.  It was great to see this from the eyes of my dad.  So many parks we visit seem to put the baseball game last and focus so much on everything else.  The Tortugas did a good job of balancing both.  This park was original.  I loved seeing the stadium and the history that happened in it.  The park seemed to be alive with the river, the trees, and the electric attitude of the fans.  In my opinion, this is a season ticket ballpark.  I wish I was a little closer so I could say hello to Jackie more often.

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