Blue Jays spring training brings Canadian hospitality to sunny Dunedin 

Major League Baseball team integral to the vibrant small town

fans walking past Blue Jays mascot Ace
Blue Jays fans walk into TD Ballpark for a spring training game vs the Philadelphia Phillies. (Photo by Ismail Fasih/Toronto Observer) 

DUNEDIN, Fla- For Hugh Timoney, the excitement and warmth of Blue Jays spring training drew him south to Dunedin. 

Timoney, 72,  left New York for the sunny Florida city nine years ago because of the experience he had as a baseball fan.

Now, he works at the Jays’ fan experience desk in Dunedin, helping others create their own collections of memorable moments.

“As a matter of fact, I ended up working here because we used to come and vacation in this area,” he said in an interview March 4, as the Toronto team hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in a spring game.

“We came to a game here, and were just so impressed by the team and by the people who worked here that I said, ‘well, you know, I’m going to get a job here one day.’ Fortunately that ended up working out.”

It’s easy to understand why Timoney and so many other northerners, including Canadians, want to be a part of spring training in Florida.

TD Ballpark, the Blue Jays spring home field, is a miniature Rogers Centre with a congenial small town feel. The friendly attitude of staff members on the concourse is infectious, and reminiscent of the kind manners for which Canadians are known.

Soaking Up The Atmosphere at TD Ballpark

A warm and welcoming environment doesn’t just lift spirits, it also lifts the local economy. 

“The hotels, the restaurants, the local businesses absolutely are thrilled that the Blue Jays are here … I think it’s a reciprocal relationship,” Timoney said. 

Usher Chris Dempsey, another Dunedin transplant employed by the team, spoke about the employment opportunities that the team provides. 

“The Blue Jays contribute so much to the community, employing people, between the training facility and the fields here.”

Dempsey, 63, a Boston native, moved to Canada and lived in Halifax for three years before ultimately settling in Dunedin.

“Socially, for the residents, it’s fantastic. You’ll see a bunch of people that actually just walk to the ballpark. The rivalries between Clearwater, Dunedin always fills the stadium,” he said. “You’ll see a lot of retirees, you’ll see a lot of young kids, very generational. I think it means everything to the community.” 

The team certainly has been filling the stadium this year. They are on pace to break the attendance record set last spring. 

“Last year we had our record in ticket sales, and this year we’re already 12,000 tickets ahead of where we were at this point last year,” said Charles Henderson, ticket sales and service co-ordinator for TD Ballpark. “Our home opener saw a record attendance both in tickets sold and in tickets distributed and against the Braves last Saturday we came close to that number as well.”

Henderson said the club sold 7,631 tickets for the record-breaking opener, passing the previous high of 7,200. They have sold 83,000 tickets so far in spring training this year.

The Blue Jays mean “everything” to Dunedin, said Henderson, who is from nearby New Port Richey, Florida.

Our perspective on what the Blue Jays mean to Dunedin

“We got a whole bunch of Canadians that come down, they love staying here, they love their warm weather baseball. It helps get them out of a long winter up in Toronto and the Blue Jays have never left and that means a lot to the city.” 

Dunedin has been the home of Blue Jays spring training since 1977, their inaugural season in the big leagues.

They are the only Major League team to have never moved its spring training location. The longtime bond with the area has created a special relationship with the fans. 

“It’s kind of hard to describe because it’s like family,” said Brenda Gelber, a former resident of Hamilton, Ont. “When you come here, you see the same people over and over. You get to know your seatmates, you get to know the workers, you get to meet the players. They’re family, it’s like one big family.”

Photo Gallery

Meet Mr. & Mrs. Pretzel 

Elaine and Everett Youmans of Thunder Bay make the trip south to Dunedin every year, like many of other Canadians eager to immerse themselves in the spring training atmosphere.

For many, that means absorbing the sights, sounds and scents of baseball, but in the Youmans’ case it comes with a twist.

“We’re called Mr. and Mrs. Pretzel,” said 78-year-old Elaine.

The elderly couple’s concession stand can be found tucked in the concourse along the first-baseline of TD Ballpark.

“Nine years, same place,” Elaine said.

Elaine and Everett Youmans
Elaine and Everett Youmans pose next to their pretzel stand in the concourse of TD Ballpark in Dunedin. (Photo by Cristian Ceniti/Toronto Observer)

It’s a popular spot in the stadium, attracting a steady line of fans deciding between a plain or a salted pretzel.

The Youmans run the snack shack on a volunteer basis in the city that’s become their second home, with an understanding of how much it means to Dunedin that the Blue Jays have done the same.

“To the community, it means a lot. They bring in a lot of money to Dunedin and they’ve done a beautiful job with the park,” Everett said. 

salted pretzel
Traditional salted pretzel at the ballpark.

While he enjoys contributing to the lively environment surrounding spring training games, the laidback nature of the Florida town is just as appealing.

“It’s small, it’s quaint. It’s not the towering buildings like they have in Clearwater, the high-rises and stuff like that,” the 76-year-old said.

For Elaine, it’s the feeling that Dunedin is a city-sized resort that resonates most.

“We love it here, it’s like being at Disney. Everybody’s happy, and the smell of the popcorn and the grilled onions…” Elaine said.

Above all, the pair is appreciative of the southern state’s weather, a sentiment echoed by Canadian snowbirds at large. 

“We love the warmth, the heat. We’re getting away from Thunder Bay, Ontario, It’s cold. That’s why we have to spend the winter here.”

About this article

By: , , , , , and
Posted: Mar 6 2024 10:04 am
Filed under: Special Reports Baseball Sports