Palm Beach County is back in play for a new Atlanta Braves spring-training home, as the team management explores options apart from efforts toward a new St. Petersburg base and back toward the franchise’s longtime spring home.
The Braves trained in West Palm Beach for 35 years — beginning during the Milwaukee Braves era — before shifting spring operations to Disney’s Champion Stadium in 1998. And while Palm Beach County surfaced as a possible spring home for the Braves once it became apparent the team was ready to move from ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex, the team first moved on a proposed spring-training/sports-tourism complex in St. Petersburg — a proposed quickly dissed by both Major League Baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays, who argued any new-ballpark efforts should be focused on the Rays.
So back to Palm Beach for the Braves. The team hired public affairs consultants Tom McNicholas and Rachel Ondrus as lobbyists for the team; McNicholas was key in Palm Beach County and West Palm Beach landing a joint training camp for the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros and has been working on that project in recent months.
Now, hiring a connected lobbyist will certainly start the search, but it could be a hard sell. County officials say they have no resources for building a new spring-training complex, and Florida cities may be unwilling to pay toward a complex on their own, even though there could be some small measure of state funding involved. From the Palm Beach Post:
“We have a chance for a homecoming now, we hope,’’ Braves President John Schuerholz told The Palm Beach Post on Tuesday.
“We have engaged with groups in various communities, and obviously, by our acknowledgement that we have hired a lobbyist in Palm Beach County, that says we are interested there as well.’’
The Braves have not had any formal meetings with any local elected officials and they have not found a preferred site in the county, although they are believed to be focusing from Lake Worth south to Boca Raton, the rich southern half of the county where no teams train….
Even Schuerholz admitted the long-shot chances of the Braves returning: “I don’t know if there’s a chance, but that would be a pleasant thing for a lot of people,’’ he said.
Now, there will certainly be some sentimental value in the Braves returning to Palm Beach County. But there’s a lot of work needed before that first shovel of dirt is overturned for a new complex.
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