Thursday, August 13, 2009

Space Coast Stadium - Brevard County Florida

The beautiful Space Coast Stadium off Interstate 95 at exit 195 near Cocoa Florida was the 11th and final stadium used by Florida State League teams that I wanted to visit this year. Yesterday, August 12, I accomplished that "mission" (but without the banner and without landing on a ship moored 500 meters off the coast of San Diego).

Space Coast Stadium is the spring training home of the hapless Washington Nationals. It is obvious from the results of the 2009 season thus far that the Nationals should have stayed in Florida for more spring training.

I arrived at the stadium late yesterday after spending the morning visiting seven counties in north-central Florida I had not visited yet in 2009. From the county chase I hung out for a couple hours on the beach at beautiful Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville where I hoped to find some migrating seabirds. The only thing of interest were three Forster's Terns freshly arrived from somewhere north of here.

Walking from the parking area to the ball park visitors first encounter a large bronze statute of "Mighty Casey" the mythical famous home run hitter for the "Mudville" team. The statute must be at least 16 feet tall. Assuming its a life-size replica of Casey, its easy to understand why he hit so many home runs in his day.

All seats for Florida State League games (except for season ticket holders) are general admission. I paid $6.00 for mine. The gates open one hour before the game. Once inside the gate I went immediately to the Manatee store and purchased my Brevard County Manatees baseball cap. I told the person selling the cap about my quest to see a game in each stadium and to get a baseball cap for each team. For whatever reason she gave me a little carry on bag from the 2008 Florida State League All-Star game as a memento of my efforts. I guess I must have good karma because she certainly didn't have to do that - that or she saw a way to get rid of an old carry on bag!

The one grill in operation (there are apparently 3 during the Nationals spring training season) didn't have bratwurst on the menu but they had an excellent Italian sausage for $4.00. Adjacent to this grill (that only sold Budweiser products) was a small stand with adult beverages that included 32 ounce cups of Presidente for $9.00 ($10.00 with the tip that I had no alternative but to leave because the guy didn't offer me change).

Inside the stadium I was very impressed with what I saw. The stadium was completed in 1993 and has a feel of having been completed much more recently than that. There is a large press box area and several very conspicuous VIP lounges on the same level as the press area. The seats are very wide and comfortable with more than adequate space for your legs in front of you. Having seen all 11 stadiums I have to rank Space Coast in the top 3 in terms of niceness, right up there with the Fort Myers stadium and the one used by the Clearwater Thresher Sharks.

Tonight's game was between the Brevard County Manatees and the Dunedin Blue Jays. The final score was Brevard County 8 and Dunedin 2. The game was never close with Brevard County taking an early 4 run lead in the bottom of the first inning and that was all they really needed to do for the rest of the night. Probably the best play of the night came in the top of the fifth inning when Dunedin scored its two runs. With a runner on second base the Dunedin hitter lined a ball to deep center field. The center fielder picked up the ball and threw a strike to home plate. The Brevard catcher stood directly in front of the plate, hovering the base line (which is where he's supposed to be - not out in front of the base). He caught the ball, hunkered down, and was rolled over by the incoming Dunedin runner trying to score from second. The catcher went down on this back with the runner on top of him. But he held onto the ball and the runner was out.

I remember a similar situation in the 9th grade when we were playing Bruce, Wisconsin. A Bruce runner was trying to score on a fly ball to center field. I stood in front of the plate with my mask on waiting for the ball. When I caught it I squatted down and waited for the impact. It came and when it did the runner smacked me on the top of the head with his elbow knocking me out cold as a fish. But I held onto the ball. When I finally came to I was laying on my back and the coach had removed my mask and was slapping my face. Finally able to focus he held out two fingers and asked me how many I could see. I squinted with one eye, then the other, and sheepishly said "two?" The coach said "you'll be fine now get up." And I did - just like the Brevard County catcher did tonight.

The paid attendance was only 650 people but they were boisterous and vocal in support of their home team. Its always more fun to be around fans like that than listening to the anemic response of most Sarasota Reds fans.

During the game I was able to add the following bird species to my list of birds observed in/ over baseball stadiums: Wood Stork (!!!), Glossy Ibis, Limpkin (!), and Common Nighthawk. How cool is that?

Following the game I darted across the state arriving home in record time from the east coast. There were some big thunderstorms crackling the sky as I made my way through the menagerie of Orlando and its theme parks but I made it home safely which was the point having put on a little more than 600 miles just yesterday. I was lucky that my friend Laura was on the phone with me from east of Orlando to the intersection with I-75 at Tampa. Her company was really helpful in keeping me awake during that part of the drive.

This ends my quest to visit all the ball parks used by Florida State League teams. Last year I visited all of the 141 state parks in the Florida state park system. This summer it was all of the stadiums used by the Florida State League. I'll have to think hard this winter about what sort of silly goal I can set for myself during the 2010 summer season and then set out to accomplish it also. For the rest of the 2009 season I'll just keep going to Sarasota Reds games and keep watching them lose to whomever they play. Maybe occasionally I'll dash down to Port Charlotte for a Stone Crabs game - for no other reason than to sit in the tiki bar in left field and hope it gets hit by someone's home run.

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