Opportunities abound to get up close to the major league stars of tomorrow.
Story by Rod Charles
TAMPA BAY, FLORIDA — I came to Florida’s Gulf Coast hoping to catch a baseball game. It turns out, the Tampa Bay Rays were on the road in ironically — of all places — my home town of Toronto to play the Blue Jays.
The good news is there are many ways fans can watch high-calibre baseball in Florida without going to a big-league park. Every professional team in Major League Baseball has affiliate teams that develop young, upcoming talent. As luck would have it, the New York Yankees Advanced A affiliate, the Tampa Yankees, were playing at home at George M. Steinbrenner Field against the Tampa Bay Rays’ affiliate, the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
One magnificent thing about watching a Tampa Yankees game is you’re close to the action and for this reason alone Steinbrenner Field, like several other Advanced A parks, is a gem.
The stadium (capacity 11,026) wasn’t packed on the day my wife and I went, which didn’t bother me one bit — half the fun was watching all the children run around after loose balls. You could see and hear intricacies of the game that are often missed in the major leagues. Facial expressions of the players, signs from the dugout, the blistering speed of a fastball, the occasional bad word, dirt flying up in a stolen-base attempt, the incessant spitting of a coach — things you simply don’t see sitting in the 500 Level of Rogers Centre. Another cool thing you get to see up close, of course, are future stars of the game pursuing their dreams.
“Since ’94 we’ve had the likes of Derek Jeter come through Tampa, Robinson Canó, Brett Gardner, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, just to name a few who have come through Tampa and have made their way up to the big leagues,” says Matt Gess, assistant general manager of the Tampa Yankees, adding that their guys have always been really good about coming out before, and staying after and signing autographs.
“Some are still with the Yankees, some are retired, some are not, but yeah, that’s the beauty of it. You really get the chance to see some of these guys just playing and you never know, five years they’re up in New York making a big impact. On the flip side, the visiting team can come in like tonight, we’re facing the Stone Crabs, the Single A team of the Rays, and you never know. You just come to watch a game and somebody from there could be in the big leagues in a couple years.”
As soon as we arrived at Steinbrenner Field we saw the names of some of the greatest players to ever play the game in a courtyard in front of the stadium with several Yankees retired numbers. Have to give credit where credit is due. I might be a Jays fan but it’s hard not to appreciate names like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.
Another cool thing was the touching tribute to the memory of those who were lost during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. A piece of steel from the World Trade Center was on display, donated by retired firefighters from New York who now live in Florida.
“You can come to a game and not break your bank. For a family of four who want to sit in our lower area it will cost around $24, a big, big difference from the majors,” says Gess.
No, it’s not the majors but this is phenomenal, aggressive, and thrilling baseball. We watched the end of the game on the edge of our seats as the sun went down over a tense 2-1 win for the home team. The names might not be familiar but trust me, some of them will be well known someday. I have a feeling I’ll be booing third baseman Miguel Andujar and shortstop Jorge Mateo in the very near future when they suit up for the New York Yankees against my beloved Blue Jays.
But underneath all of that booing, I’ll be reminiscing, too. Remembering that I was able to witness the blossoming of their professional careers.
MORE ABOUT GEORGE M. STEINBRENNER FIELD
Address: 1 Steinbrenner Field Drive
Box Office 813-879-2244
Tampa Yankees 813-673-3055
Ticket information and info:
The Legends Room gift shop sells all of the latest New York Yankees & Tampa Yankees apparel and accessories.
Local Baseball Fix:
Tampa Bay Rays – Major Leagues 1-727-825-3137
Dunedin Blue Jays -A (Toronto) 1-727-733-9302
Clearwater Threshers -A (Philadelphia Phillies) 1-727-712-4300
Lakeland Flying Tigers -A (Detroit Tigers) 1-863-686-8075
Bradenton Marauders – AA (Pittsburgh Pirates) 1-941-747-3031