It was such a great idea, but it never panned out.
Boardwalk and Baseball was a theme park in Central Florida that attempted to combine two great vintage summer pastimes — baseball and an amusement park styled like Coney Island in New York. It lasted just less than three years, debuting on February 14, 1987, and closing on January 17, 1990. The concept was fantastic — a park that had baseball exhibits, continuous games played by college and semipro teams while the park was open, and an exhibit that borrowed heavily from the Hall of Fame’s traveling exhibit.
But it had several negatives. While it tried to piggyback on the Walt Disney World tourist influx as an alternative, affordable attraction, Boardwalk and Baseball was located in what was then the remote intersection of Interstate 4 and U.S. 27, 10 miles west of Disney World near Haines City. Locals will tell you it’s in Davenport, and they are right, but have you ever heard of Davenport? And if you don’t live in Florida, have you heard of Haines City?
Didn’t think so.
Boardwalk and Baseball could not compete with Disney in terms of rides and organization, and even though a spring training site was built for the Kansas City Royals and a Florida State League team was placed at the site — the Baseball City Royals sounded so much better than, say, the Davenport Royals, for example — the park drowned in debt. It also closed at sunset, which hampered its appeal — particularly during Florida’s hot summer months and typically broiling afternoon temperatures. Like its predecessor, Circus World, the site just didn’t click for tourists. Baseball fans were mildly interested, but with competition from Disney, SeaWorld, Wet N’ Wild, and even Busch Gardens in Tampa, the place closed down. The Baseball City Royals were sold in 1992. The Kansas City Royals, meanwhile, continued to play at Baseball City through 2002. The following year, the Royals moved their spring training complex to Surprise, Arizona.
The Boardwalk and Baseball site is now a complex of retail stores.
Boardwalk and Baseball’s gift shop did offer cards for collectors. One 1987 set — a repackaged version of the 44-card product produced by Topps for Woolworth’s in 1985 — was available for purchase. But the main set of interest was the 1987 Boardwalk and Baseball Top Run Makers. This was a 33-card boxed set created by Topps for distribution at B&B. They were standard-sized cards with a thin pink border around a color action photo. The “B/B” logo is printed at the bottom right-hand side of the card. On the card back, the park logo was accompanied by a Topps logo. A checklist was positioned on the back of the box.
It was an affordable set and featured the top hitters of the day. More than a third of the set would consist of future Hall of Famers, including Cal Ripken Jr., George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Murray, Wade Boggs, Ryne Sandberg, Gary Carter, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and Robin Yount. Other big stars of the era included Keith Hernandez, Don Mattingly, Steve Garvey, Dale Murphy, Tim Raines, Bill Buckner, Dave Parker, Kirk Gibson and Harold Baines.
Some of the shots were of admittedly poor quality, or the choice of the player “pose” was uninspired. For example, the Wade Boggs card shows the Red Sox star with his back to the camera; we only know it’s him because of his No 26 uniform. Kent Hrbek is shown squatting in the on-deck circle, while Gibson is shown looking down as if examining a bat; the stands behind him are empty. Some of the other shots are better, with players following through on their swings.
The coolest concept at Boardwalk and Baseball was the ability to make your own baseball card — for a fee, of course. Fans could pick their own team uniform top and cap, use a glove or bat, and pose against a backdrop of fans in the stands. The idea was years ahead of its time, but admittedly, were primitively done. You walked into a narrow room that had uniforms, gloves and bats and you picked the way you wanted to be dressed. Then, you posed in front of a guy who had a camera on a tripod. After the photo was taken, you could put in fun statistics, like your height and weight, place of birth and which way you threw and batted.
The best part: You could invent your own baseball statistics. Naturally, I made my own card. I was a slugging, left-handed pitcher with a Ron Guidry-like 24-3 record, but with Reggie Jackson hitting statistics like 33 homers and 120 RBIs. Why not?
My “first” baseball card was taken in May 1987 so is now 29 years old. It qualifies as a vintage card, I suppose, since I consider myself vintage. But my card is basically an uncorrected error because I am wearing a right-handed first baseman’s mitt. I’m left-handed, you see. But B&B didn’t have any lefty gloves that day. Or any day. Oh well. A recent copy of this card went for, oh, 75 cents on eBay last month — but that included shipping. I joke, of course.
Self-cards today have slicker production values and look nicer. And repackaged sets, when available, have more originality and are attractive. But the Boardwalk and Baseball set is an inexpensive way to find some really good players, including a bunch of Hall of Famers. You can find them (and some surviving souvenirs from the park itself) here.