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Lerner: Fort Myers is tops on our spring-training wish list

Washington NationalsIt’s inevitable that the Washington Nationals will be leaving Viera’s Space Coast Stadium for spring training, and tops on the team’s wish list for a new home is Fort Myers’ City of Palms Park.

Not surprising the Lerners want to leave Viera: at a time when teams are clustering spring-training operations both in Florida and Arizona, the Nats train in a no-man’s land — not quite in the Orlando area, not quite close enough to Jupiter and Palm Beach. There’s nothing really wrong with Space Coast Stadium and the adjoining Carl Barger Complex, per se, save the location.

“The distance not only kills the team, but when you’re there with your family, driving hundreds and hundreds of miles, it’s just crazy,” Mark Lerner told the Washington Times. “It’s totally a geography question why we need to leave Brevard [County]. The people have been wonderful to us, but it’s just grueling on the team.”

The team has positioned itself to leave; in the last year team officials have announced their dissatisfaction with Space Coast Stadium’s location and talked with Osceola County about a new shared complex just outside the Disney World boundaries. 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.

Interestingly, there has not been a lot of talk between the Nationals and Lee County over a possible move: they’re in the beginning of an exclusive negotiating period, but there are plenty of issues to be discussed, including ballpark improvements and the addition of practice fields close to the ballpark. When the Boston Red Sox inhabited the facility, they practiced at a separate facility a few miles away; the Nationals would keep that facility as a minor-league center and keep the major leaguers at new facility at City of Palms Park: a back field, another half-field, an agility field, a batting cage and a bigger clubhouse. Baltimore does the same sort of thing in Sarasota.

There’s one reason why not many discussions have taken place: The issue is cost, as the Nats have presented a plan and Lee County needs to decide if it can pay to have the Nats move in. Lee County does indeed have money to invest in spring-training facilities past what’s already been committed to JetBlue Park at Fenway South, but so far discussions have centered on spending that tourism tax money on upgrades to Hammond Stadium, the spring home of the Minnesota Twins — a spring facility that certainly could use a facelift.

RELATED STORIES: Gammons: Nats present spring-training wish list to Lee County; Is Nats, Brevard County marriage over?Nats go public with desire for new spring-training facilityNats, Astros eying new Osceola County spring-training complexCould Cards, Marlins leave Treasure Coast?Kasten: Nats definitely looking for new spring home


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