The first official pitch of the year at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville happens Wednesday, April 11, and the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp have already hosted Shrimp & Suds Craft Beer Fest and a media preview day at the ballpark with early looks at the team, the field, and new menu items for 2018. Baseball season is underway, both on the major and minor league schedules, and the Jumbo Shrimp (AA Affiliate of the MLB Miami Marlins) take the field at 7:05pm Wednesday night to begin a five-game home-opening series against the Mobile BayBears. Last year’s opening homestand, with an attendance of 41,276, was the highest-attended series in the ballpark’s history.
At last week’s media preview day, team members expressed enthusiasm for the upcoming season. Manager Randy Ready believes that the team “should match up well with the teams in the Southern League,” while acknowledging that “every season is challenging.” There was also quite a bit of talk about the new ownership group of the Marlins, headed by Derek Jeter, with catch phrases like “there’s new energy in the organization.” Pitcher Nick Neidert, acquired in December in a trade with the Seattle Mariners, sees “a lot of opportunity over here.” Outfielder Austin Dean, now in his third season in Jax, also gave credit to the local fans: “There are a lot of fans here, and the atmosphere in Jax is one of the greatest in the league.” Further, he’s optimistic that the Jumbo Shrimp will “have one of the better lineups in the Southern League.”
Hitting coach Kevin Witt sees the composition of the team as a good combination of newcomers and existing players alike. Overall, it’s a group of “good kids,” and he “loves those guys who can do a little of everything.” Witt’s philosophy is to “develop players,” from handling themselves on and off the field through “how we practice.” He added, that by going about it the right way, “winning will take care of itself.”
The Jumbo Shrimp also offered a sneak peek of new menu items available in the concession areas. And, be prepared, as you’ll have to be a “heavy hitter” for a few of these, and you may even want to dig in with a few friends!
Take the new “Duval Heavy Hitter,” for example. It’s a large concoction of crispy chicken tenders topped with fries, cheese, scallions and bacon bits, served in a replica batting helmet. If marinara sauce is your thing, check out the Meatball Marinara Sub on a hoagie roll.
And, there has to be shrimp, right? The coconut shrimp are back this year, along with the new Shrimp and BBQ Pulled Pork Nachos, with fresh Mayport Shrimp, also served up in a helmet. For a real Southern experience, there are also Fried Pickles served with creamy ranch dressing. To top it all off, try the new Apple Pie Bites topped with powdered sugar.
You’ll need beverages to go along with those menu choices, and there are a number of options, with craft beer (local and regional) and macro beer selections available. For a local flavor with the team theme, try the draft “Shrimp & Grit” Cerveza, by Bold City Brewery. It’s a refreshing lighter, crisp Mexican-style lager sure to quench a thirst. As Kevin Miller, Bold City Brewery’s Sales Manager, will attest, the beer is made with a “substantial” amount of corn — Shrimp & Grit!
Fans will notice the extended protective netting around the first and third baselines this year, but there’s a clear view of all the action happening on the field.
And, here are a few shrimp-bites:
Last year’s total attendance: 325,743. That’s an increase of 61,342 from 2016 to 2017, which is the largest increase for a AA-ballpark from 2016 to 2017, and the second largest of any ballpark in domestic Minor League Baseball.
Stadium seating: 6,042 seats; can accommodate over 11,000 with berm and bleacher seating.
420 feet: the longest distance between home plate and center field in the Southern League.
Stadium has the largest roof of any open-air venue in the minor leagues.
The home opener is Wednesday, April 11, at 7:05pm. Tickets are available online.
Linda Johnson, Certified Cicerone®
(all photos by Linda Johnson; article adapted from brewnymph.com)
Linda Johnson is a BUZZ Contributing Writer (beer!) and founder of the beer and travel website, BrewNymph.com, covering all things Florida beer from news to events. She is the first female Level 2 Certified Cicerone® in the Jax area, one of seven in the metro area, and the only Level 2-certified independent beer writer in the state.