Dunedin, Florida Spring Training Communities Come Alive As MLB Lockout Ends

Written By Brant James on March 10, 2022 - Last Updated on March 11, 2022
$687 Million Could Be Lost Due To MLB Lockout

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Lance Muffley was reasonably satisfied with the answer he’d gotten at the ticket window. But he sidled up to a conversation on the edge of the TD Ballpark plaza on Friday to ask a question.

Just in case.
The Major League Baseball lockout had ended the day before with an agreement between the players association and owners, and on a breezy afternoon when the Jays should have been hosting the Phillies, locals and tourists alike were converging on the park to check the status of tickets they’d bought, or search for new ones.
“I have tickets for the nineteen and I didn’t get refunded, so they’re still good, right?” Muffley asked. “I’ve got the app, and it says here my tickets will be ready in seven days, one hour, 30 minutes, and nine seconds.”

Muffley was all set. With players already on the fields for a condensed spring training, the Jays would open against Boston in Fort Myers on March 18 before returning back to this quiet corner of the Grapefruit League a day later. It was a welcome thought for everyone on Douglas Ave.

Season-ticket-holder Paul, from a community northeast of Toronto, had lost eight spring games to the lockout but was eager for March 19, when the Jays would host the Tampa Bay Rays. He’s on a bit of a deadline. His travel health insurance expires on April 3, so he’ll need to be back in Canada by then.

“It’s no fun when you save up to come on a trip. But it’s not just me, it’s the local people,” he told PlayUSA. “It’s the [Veterans of Foreign Wars] across the street, the money they lose parking cars. “There wasn’t that whole lot of thought for the locals and the people who travel. And this is part of my holiday, to do something like this.”

Florida businesses dependent on spring training ready to limber up for busy March

Caught between a Major League Baseball lockout and fans in search of normalcy, warm sunshine, and the sound of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. mashing a baseball, local business owners in this quiet Tampa Bay-area town waited and hoped they would be ready if spring training came back at some point this season.

Now they get to find out.

A 99-day lockout ended on Thursday when the MLB Player Association and owners agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement. Now local business owners can get back in the game again after two disheartening weeks lost.

Blue Jays spring training 2022In Florida, 15 Major League Baseball teams train in 12 towns. And their presence matters. A 2018 study by Downs & St. Germain Research pegged Florida spring training economic impact at $687 million, supportive of 7,152 jobs and $254 million in associated wages. All were shut down, from parking – 100 spaces at the VFW – to the pubs to the pretzel line.

North of Clearwater in this quaint village, where golf carts ply the bustling Main Street shopping and dining core at night, a yearly rite was notably missing. The Blue Jays banners draped on light poles down Douglas Ave. are a constant reminder of what that is. Missing also was a certain spirit, said Janet Baustert said, owner of the popular Bauser’s bar a few blocks from the Blue Jays spring site.

“The atmosphere of the town takes on a whole new level when baseball’s in town,” she said told PlayUSA. “It’s just vibrant and it’s fun.”

As excited as Muffley was to find his spring training tickets were still good, it didn’t match the experience of riding his bike to three regular-season games held in Dunedin last summer when the Blue Jays weren’t allowed back into Canada because of COVID-19 protocols.
“Watching a Major League Baseball game in Dunedin. Just awesome,” he grinned.

Canadian fans that flocked to Florida no longer jilted by Jays

During the lockout, Baustert felt particularly bad for Canadian fans who yearly swarm Dunedin for a slice of spring as much as a view of their Jays.

“Things are so different since COVID. They’re even busier than normal. So, I can’t even imagine a spring training game,” she said. “We were already gearing up, like, ‘Oh boy, we better be ready for this because people want out. They want to go. They want to go do something. We’ve all – especially Canadians – have all been held captive to this disease and ‘We can’t get anywhere, but now we’re out. We want to be out.'”

This was to be the first normal spring training since 2019. COVID-19 forced its postponement in 2020 and attendance was greatly limited last year as the virus raged on. Paul was among those who lost his favorite time of the year.

Making his fourth Dunedin spring junket – he had to cancel last year – Paul craved normal. This was his first full spring trip to Dunedin without his wife, who died of cancer last year. He even stayed at the Island Cay Hotel on Clearwater Beach as had been their tradition.
“I lost her to cancer, but I thought I’m going to try it again this year because she found that place five, six years ago now and stayed like for three nights, come over here, saw two ball games,” he remembered. “You enjoy it. It’s fun. “
One of his friends back home jokingly suggested MLB should reimburse him for games lost this spring.

Gearing up for spring training figures to be complicated on short notice

The Low-A affiliate of the Blue Jays will begin to play at TD Ballpark in April, but Baustert said they don’t generate much business.

“There’s only 16 [spring training] home games usually, so we’re talking 16 days out of the year, but on those 16 days, obviously that that’s my busiest month,” Baustert said. “Usually March is my busiest month because everybody’s here. The hard part for this season and all of this is, we don’t know what’s going on. We don’t know what to do.

“Do you order more this week? Do you staff heavier this week? Are they going to spring it on us, like, ‘Oh, tomorrow there’s a game’? Are they going to give us a little notice? If they say next week they’re going to be playing, then we have time to staff and get everything ready. But we’re just in limbo right now. That makes it difficult for us.”

Florida spring training economic impactSupply-chain problems made stocking a popular bar and restaurant in the COVID era a difficult task. Anticipating the need for beer, burgers, and buns a few blocks from an 8,500-seat ballpark that may or may not have welcomed fans soon was doubly difficult for Baustert.

“We’re already playing the supply shuffle, as in ‘What do you have this week?’,” Baustert explained before the lockout ended. “And, ‘Oh, it’s not going to be in this week, but next week.’ But do I order it this week, just in case it’s not in next week, you know?

“We’ve been going through that for years with COVID and now throw baseball on top of it and it doesn’t help.”

The return of baseball will not only spark the town’s spirit but cash flow for the local workers who serve crucial functions in a spring training town. Now those spring dollars will return with baseball fans.

“There’s a lot of people that depend on [spring training],” Baustert said. “Not just the bars and restaurants, but you’re talking about the people that take the tickets. You’re talking about the retired people that work the concession stands, the people that park cars in their driveways. I mean, sure. It’s a couple bucks here and here, but it all adds up.”

Around the time the Blue Jays should have been delivering the first pitch on Friday, six humans drinking lunch and five dogs wagging tongues lounged on the deck out front of Bauser’s. It figured to be a lot busier in seven days, twenty hours, and nine seconds. And they all seemed glad in their own way.

Photo by Brant James
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Brant James

Brant James is a veteran journalist who has twice been recognized in the Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, most recently in 2020. He's covered motorsports, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball among a myriad of others beats and written enterprise and sports business for publications including USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com.

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