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Astros, Nats break ground on new spring complex

Washington NationalsThough the design has been going full steam for weeks, the beginning of construction on a new Houston Astros/Washington Nationals spring-training complex in West Palm Beach is nigh, as the ceremonial groundbreaking was held yesterday.

It was quite the gala: more than 100 local business and political leaders, including MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, were present for the ceremony to mark the beginning of work on the $144-million complex, set to open in spring training 2017 as Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. From the Palm Beach Post:

In her opening remarks, [West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri] Muoio quoted from two Hall of Fame baseball players: Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller. She ended her comments by throwing in a famous line from another Hall of Famer, the late Yogi Berra, to remind the crowd that the new complex marks the return of spring training to the city for the first time since 1997.

“I’m looking forward to all of us returning to the same spot in the spring of 2017 for the opening pitch as spring training returns to the city of West Palm Beach. It will be like déjà vu all over again,’’ she said.

At other times, the ceremony felt like a roast. Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana was presented with a gag gift of balloons shaped like pigs — a reference to a “pigs will fly” comment she made more than a year ago about the chances of the county and city pulling off a land swap to make the baseball stadium deal happen.

The 160-acre site is a challenging one, to be sure; about $20 million will be spent on site cleanup before the first actual construction begins.

The move by the Nats and the Astros means spring training should thrive in eastern Florida for years to come; there’s now a five-team cluster in the general area, with the New York Mets training in nearby Port St. Lucie and the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins training in Jupiter. This probably won’t be the end of spring-training upgrades in Palm Beach County — the Cards and Marlins have hinted at potential upgrades to Roger Dean Stadium — but for now the Nats and Astros have a clear path to a 2017 move.

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