We’ve mentioned this a few times, but Toronto Blue Jays officials are now saying on the record they’re on the hunt for a new spring-training home after their Dunedin lease expires in 2017.
While staying in Dunedin is a possibility (though a long shot; the city may not have the land needed for a modern complex), team president Paul Beeston says the team will explore other options once the team’s lease at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium expires in 2017.
“We’ve been in Dunedin from the beginning [in 1977] and it hasn’t impeded us from being successful,” Beeston told the Globe and Mail. “Having said that, it’s not an ideal situation from the player-development perspective, with the separate complexes.” Currently the team plays games at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and trains at the Bobby Mattick complex some four miles away.
What will go a long ways toward determining where the team goes: any decision made by Washington Nationals ownership on the future of that team’s training site. The Nats’ lease ends in 2017, but there’s an out clause that allows the team to walk away from the Space Coast Stadium lease once bonds on the facility are paid off — and that’s scheduled to happen this year. Lee County has been pitching the woo at the Nats on a move to Fort Myers’ City of Palms Park, but so far Nats officials have been noncommittal. Meanwhile, St. Lucie County officials have laid the groundwork for a second team to share Tradition Field with the addition of new training facilities, and Kissimmee County (in greater Orlando) officials have quietly been exploring the possibility of a two-team complex in that city. And Pasco County, to the north of Dunedin, has made runs at the Blue Jays before. Tampa-St. Pete is still the center of the Grapefruit League, and it would be a hard sell for the Blue Jays to leave there.
Another variable: what Jim Crane intends on doing with Houston Astros spring training. The team will certainly be leaving Kissimmee after its lease at Osceola County Stadium ends in 2016, and possible destinations include Port St. Lucie and Palm City, where Crane owns a golf resort.
If the Nats end up somewhere else on the Treasure Coast, chances are good the Cardinals and Marlins will remain in Jupiter. If the Nationals leave, the Cardinals and Marlins have outs in their Roger Dean Stadium leases should only three teams remain in the area.
Of the places the Globe and Mail lists as possible destinations, very few are realistic. Romantics love to bring up Vero Beach’s Dodgertown as a potential destination, but it would take at least $50 million to bring Holman Stadium up to current standards; you’re talking about an outdated facility with a small press box, inadequate seating and no grandstand, suites or dugouts. (Still, not outside the realm of possibility should Indian River County come up with the money somehow.) Daytona Beach is racing country, and the Blue Jays would be very, very far away from most spring-training sites.
In any case, there are plenty of ways this could play out. Seeing the Treasure Coast revived with a new round of teams would be great for spring training; a cluster of facilities between Palm City, St. Lucie, Jupiter and maybe Palm Beach would be great for Grapefruit League fans.
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