17th of Apr | Story

Dunedin die-hard


DUNEDIN, Florida | Janette Donoghue grew up a Toronto Blue Jays fan in this small beach city on the Gulf Coast, 1,097 miles south of where the team plays in Rogers Centre.

Her family moved to Dunedin when she was 6 years old, and she’s been watching the Blue Jays and their High-A affiliate, the Dunedin Blue Jays, ever since. At first, she was a fan. Then, as an elementary school teacher on summer break, she decided to pour beer at the stadium. She never went back to San Jose Elementary School to teach physical education. During the summer she was serving up draft beer, the Toronto Blue Jays asked her to take on more roles. Now, eight years later, she’s the assistant general manager.

It certainly wasn’t planned that way. But thinking back to her childhood, she was always envious of Ken Carson, Dunedin’s general manager for 30 years. “I always thought he had the best job,” she says.
Donoghue loves the Blue Jays, but she also loves Dunedin. She loves its small town feel. And she loves how the two support each other.

"I love this stadium. It's not new, it's not big, it's not glamorous, but if you like baseball, this is the place to be." - Janette Donoghue

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is tucked on the fringe of a neighborhood three blocks east of the Gulf of Mexico and seven blocks south of the specialty shops and local restaurants in downtown Dunedin. The stadium sits at the corner of Douglas Avenue and Beltrees Street, just a few hundred feet from the road. Its lights leave a glow on the bungalow houses, VFW hall and library that surround it.

Dunedin is a city of about 35,000 people. It’s the kind of place where families walk or ride their bikes to the ballpark. Parents pull up to the gates and drop off their children, not yet old enough to drive, for safe entertainment.

“I love this stadium,” says Janette Donoghue. “It’s not new, it’s not big, it’s not glamorous, but if you like baseball, this is the place to be. You’re right here in the action and there is not a bad seat.”

Donoghue would know. Growing up, she wasn’t just a fan – she went to nearly half of the Dunedin Blue Jays’ home games with her parents and grandparents.

Her father, Kevin, and her brother, Patrick, own the financial services company Thornton Donoghue & Associates, located just blocks from the stadium. They make it to every spring training game, usually still wearing their suits.

Her grandparents were part of the push to get Toronto to open its spring training facility in Dunedin in 1977, the year the team played its first game north of the border. Her grandparents housed players like Carlos Delgado. Her grandfather, now 93, still has season tickets. A tree and plaque sit in front of the stadium remembering her grandmother as a fan.

Now she’s at all of the home games, though not necessarily sitting in the blue seats. Her responsibilities to the team and the stadium include sales, the game-day staff, field promotions, program sales, turnstile numbers, and booking hotels and buses for the teams. During games, she walks the concourse talking with as many fans as she can during the game.

“One of the things that I make my staff do is be friendly and kind,” Donoghue says. “We make them welcomed as our friends and ask them where they’re from. We have that kind of personal touch, where a lot of other ballparks you come in, you go to your seat, you watch the game and you leave.”

That personal touch is part of Dunedin’s charm and community pride. Pride in its downtown, filled with local businesses and festivals. Pride in its beaches and parks, Caladesi Island is routinely named a top beach in the United States. Pride in its Blue Jays, whose faces have been placed on banners hanging from seemingly ever light pole.

“There’s so much that goes on all the time and there’s never a boring moment,” Donoghue says of Dunedin. “We always say everyone travels in packs. … It’s the same people everywhere you go. If something happens to you, they’ll know about it down the street in the middle of the day.”

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason


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