It's not exactly been a secret in baseball circles -- indeed, we've written about it more than once, based on inside sources -- but over the weekend the Washington Nationals went public with their desire for a new spring-training facility.
Nationals owner Mark Lerner confirmed to the Washington Post that the team was indeed looking at alternatives to the team's current home at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, on Florida's East Coast. Space Coast Stadium and the adjoining Carl Barger complex make up a perfectly fine spring-training home -- something Lerner easily acknowledges -- but the increasingly remote location and lack of growth in the Viera market is causing the team to take closer looks at new homes in Orlando, the Gulf Coast or even Arizona:
“We do have a problem here,” Lerner said, sitting in the dugout of Space Coast Stadium. “Viera has been wonderful as a town. Viera government has been wonderful. Our problem is basically logistics. Our closest game is 120-mile round trip. We cannot do that. It’s tiring. It messes up our practice schedule. It’s not good for the organization. We have no choice but to look at what our options are. We’re going to continue to do that in both states. Hopefully, we’ll be successful firming something up with Florida. If not, we will not hesitate to go to Arizona if necessary.”
In the Post interview, Lerner held open several options, including City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, soon to be deserted as the spring home of the Boston Red Sox. We're told the Nats front office has already put that ballpark on the bottom of any wish list -- indeed, the issues experienced by the Red Sox, like the condition of the surrounding neighborhood and the distance between the ballpark and the training facility, are still there -- and are determined to play in a new facility, either on their own or with another team. There's still activity with a proposed new Osceola County facility, and some in Winter Haven want to see area officials make a play for the Nats with a facility near Legoland -- with someone else picking up the tab, of course.
Right now there are four teams training on or near the Treasure Coast: the Nats, the Cardinals and the Marlins (who share Roger Dean Stadium) and the Mets. This is a little misleading, though: Viera is closer to DIsney World and Kissimmee than to Roger Dean Stadium. Still, the uneasiness felt by Lerner and the Nets front office is certainly felt by Cards and Marlins officials: no one wants to be the last team standing on the Treasure Coast. Right now the big thing in spring training is accessibility to other camps and teams: no one wants to drive two or three hours to a spring match.
The Nats' lease at Space Coast Stadium and the Carl Barger training complex doesn't expire until 2017, but the team can move early if it pays off construction loans -- currently valued at $765,000 a year and scheduled to be paid off in 2013.
Photo: Space Coast Stadium.
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