Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jackie Robinson Ballpark - Daytona Beach Florida

Tuesday night, August 11, I had the extreme pleasure of watching a baseball game in the world-famous Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona Beach Florida. Jackie Robinson was the 10th stadium of the 11 stadiums in the Florida State League that I wanted to visit this season. Named for someone who in my opinion was one of the five best baseball players ever to wear a uniform, visiting this park is a combination of baseball fever, American history, and humility.

The ballpark is located on Orange Avenue just off Beach Street along the waterfront in Daytona Beach. I arrived a few minutes before the gates opened and purchased a $6.00 general admission ticket. I had first asked for a seat directly behind home plate (one that cost $11.00) but I was told by the ticket salesperson that "there wont be many people here tonight so you can save money and sit anywhere." I said "including right behind home plate?" The guy behind the screen selling tickets said yes. Apparently he had not talked to the hall monitor in the ballpark because when I went to sit down in a seat in the first two rows behind home plate I was politely asked to sit elsewhere because I didn't have one of the $11.00 VIP tickets!

Jackie Robinson Ballpark can best be described as "old" and therein lies the charm. There is a set of bleachers down the third base line and a "grandstand" behind home and along the first base line. The dugouts look exactly like that - dug out. In fact the ballpark reminds me of the ball field at the Barron County (Wisconsin) fairgrounds in Rice Lake Wisconsin back in the very early 1960s. It is retro and it just feels like the kind of place you want to play baseball.

On entering the stadium I saw a historical placard that told about the huge amount of prejudice that Jackie Robinson had to endure as the first black ball player to break into the show. There are 10 more similar placards spaced around the edge of the stadium - each is historically important and very accurate. Most will make you angry when you read them. For instance despite all of his accomplishments, on arrival in Daytona Beach in 1947, Jackie Robinson was not able to stay in a hotel in town because the law forbade black people from staying in hotels. Instead Jackie stayed with a white doctor during his stay.

The beer selection at this stadium is pretty good with one bar offering 20 different beers on tap and all of them including Landshark Lager, available in a 32 ounce cup for the ultra reasonable price of $5.95. Also the little grill here has REAL bratwurst...I mean the kind of stuff babies born in Wisconsin are weaned on for our first solid food. I was also able to acquire a Daytona Cubs baseball cap, bringing me closer to the ultimate goal of having them all.

I took my seat behind home plate, but three rows back because I lacked a VIP ticket, and settled in to enjoy a game between the Daytona Cubs and the Tampa Yankees. There were 1620 fans in the audience for this game won by the Yankees by 8-3. Its frustrating that even the Class A minor league Yankees are rarely defeated as they were last night. They also possess the best record in the Florida State League.

I enjoyed this game immensely for several reasons. First of all neither of the teams was beating the Sarasota Reds. Plus there is the history surrounding the ballpark and the fact that they ballpark feels like something out of the 50s. Then there are the fans.

Absolutely nothing in the Florida State League comes close to the fevered excitement that comes from the Daytona Cubs fans. They are loyal, vocal, vociferous Chicago Cubs fans. They are the best. The crowd was exceptionally noisy and involved and gave the umpire hell each and every time it was needed. I felt right at home among all these crazed fans.

Despite the Cubs being throttled by the Yankees I had a great time at this game. It was all about history however. There was nothing remarkable about the plays or the game. I was sitting in a baseball shrine of historic importance. Just imagine that 62 years ago this spring a black man made history by joining the show and doing so in Daytona Beach. Sixty two years ago this spring he was running bases and sliding into them, and upsetting the establishment and tearing down more walls that helped to eventually lead us to Barack's triumph last November.

Daytona Beach is also of historical significance to Parrotheads because it was in this town at the Ocean Deck bar on the beach where Jimmy Buffett received the inspiration for his uber-party song "Fins." While in the bar, Jimmy watched a girl walk in the bar alone and she was immediately hit on by five or six guys whom Jimmy referred to as "Landsharks". From that song came the incomparable Landshark Lager beer.

And to think that I was able to sit there in an historically important ball park in Daytona Beach less than one mile from that historically important bar on the beach that was the inspiration for a great song and an even better beer, and soak it all in with a 32 ounce cup of Landshark Lager in one hand and a real bratwurst in the other. Life is good for the retired.

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