BY CAROLYN LaWELL
JUPITER, Florida | Just 40 minutes before the Jupiter Hammerheads and Palm Beach Cardinals took the field Saturday night for the second game of a doubleheader, more than 35,000 eggs littered the outfield at Roger Dean Stadium — about 10,000 of them dropped from a hovering helicopter.
Then 7,000 children, baskets in hand, scurried onto the field and grabbed as many candy-stuffed plastic eggs as they could hold. The contained chaos was part of an Easter event where local Generation Church handed out 5,000 free tickets to the community. But it was also one of those crazy promotions that gets people in the park and thinking about baseball.
There is no other setup like Roger Dean Stadium. It’s one of six facilities in the country that houses two Major League teams (the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals) during spring training — and it’s the only stadium that features two minor league teams all season. The Hammerheads' and Cardinals' season will last 151 days, and just 11 of those days won’t feature a game at Roger Dean.
That might sound great for baseball lovers — and, in fact, there are about 250 season-ticket holders who buy all 140 games — but it also means an over-saturation of the sport.
The season will last 151 days at Roger Dean Stadium, and just 11 of those days won’t feature a game at the park. That might sound great for baseball lovers — and there are about 250 season-ticket holders who buy all 140 games — but it also means an over-saturation of the sport.
“So you take a product and you water it down,” says Mike Bauer, general manager of Roger Dean Stadium. “You’ve eliminated the urgency of, ‘Hey catch your team while they’re in town,’ because they play every single day. The only time we have off are league-mandated off days and the All-Star break.”
Adding to that is the fact that the Florida market is transient and there are a lot of attractions to divert attention. Bauer came from the Asheville Tourists three years ago and to highlight what he means, in Asheville, North Carolina, he says the ballpark there competed with movie theaters and mini-golf. In Jupiter, which is in Palm Beach County, there are amusement parks and the beach and to the south in Miami, the Marlins. “You name it, you can do it here,” he says.
Roger Dean Stadium can hold 6,800 people. In 2011, the Hammerheads’ average attendance was 1,207 and the Cardinals’ was 1,089. Spring training is the stadium’s bread and butter, Bauer says, especially this year with a World Series champion and a rebranded team with a new stadium.
“Because we have two teams, the product level is watered down, where if we had one team, our attendance would be doubled or tripled maybe,” Bauer says.
To draw larger crowds, Bauer and his staff focus on 50 games a year, mainly weekend games. “Nobody has the resources to try to market 140 games,” he says. “What we try to do is we try to take our top 50 and we say, ‘OK, guys, we have to take all of our marketing dollars, our fun, our excitement to make those top 50 games spectacular.”
On Saturday, attendance for the first game, which also featured an early Easter egg hunt, was 3,396. Hours later, aided by the egg drop, 5,814 filed through the gates for the second game.
“Because people want to be seen when other people are around, we have to start by building 50 really strong games and selling out three or four,” he says. “The next year, we make it 52 games, and we sell out five or six, and you just keep it building and building. And if a promotion works, then we do it again.”
The Jupiter Hammerheads played their first game in 1998 and the Palm Beach Cardinals played their first in 2003, which team has the better alltime winning percentage?
The Hammerheads and Cardinals split their day-night doubleheader, with the Cardinals winning the first game 4-2 and the Hammerheads taking the second with a 2-0 shutout. The Cardinals scored two runs in the first inning of the first game after two wild pitches by Hammerheads lefty Rob Rasmussen and a fielding error by third baseman Ryan Fisher. Both teams scored a run in the third, and the Hammerheads pulled within one with a run in the bottom of the fourth, but the Cardinals sealed the game with a run in the top of the ninth. The Hammerheads took the second game thanks to a run in the sixth, another in the ninth and quality pitching from Zach Neal, Alan Oaks and Michael Brady, who held the Cardinals to four hits and struck out 10.
Roger Dean Stadium is a $28 million complex located on 110 acres within the Abacoa community. Besides the stadium, there are 12 fields to accommodate both Major League teams and their minor league affiliates. Bauer’s staff is about twice as large as most operations that work with minor league teams – half work with the Hammerheads and half with the Cardinals. For the record, Roger Dean Stadium is named after Roger Dean Chevrolet, a family-owned dealership in Palm Beach since 1965.
Want the answer? After the Hammerheads beat the Cardinals in the teams season opener on Friday nights, they edged closer to their stadium partner. But the Cardinals still hold the alltime advantage, .500 to .481. (For the record, the Cardinals are 621-620 and the Hammerheads are 930-1,003.)
And in random statistical news, the first game started 10 minutes later than the scheduled time. The second game, despite being proceeded by nearly 7,000 children rushing the field to pick up 35,000 Easter eggs, started only one minute later than scheduled. Both first pitches were strikes, the first batters struck out and grounded out, and the “Star-Spangled Banner” lasted 1:39 and 1:30.1. We ate one really big hot dog.
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