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Nationals to End Viera Run Today

Washington NationalsIt was not a spring-training facility that anyone associated with the Washington Nationals or predecessor Montreal Expos ever explicitly chose, so it’s no surprise there won’t be too many tears shed for today’s finale at Viera’s Space Coast Stadium.

It was a ballpark built for the Florida Marlins, opening in 1994 as the team’s spring home, all decked out with teal seats and a teal-themed clubhouse. The teal-themed clubhouse is still there (no one ever saw fit to remove the Marlins colors over the years, even with the Expos and Nats as tenants), and the basic ballpark configuration is still there, too. When Jeffrey Loria sold the Expos and bought the Marlins, he kept some Expos assets — and a spring training base at Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium was one of those assets. That put Montreal spring training in Viera, a city where the Expos had no tied and were stuck with a long-term lease.

Major League Baseball was never a big draw at Space Coast Stadium; no team has ever been a major draw, and it’s no surprise the Nats ownership sought to leave as soon as they could. Still, there’s a community of fans who will be sad to see the Nats go, no matter how better The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches may end up being for the franchise. From the Washington Post:

“I started [coming] when they built this stadium [in 1993],” said Jim Meyers, a local baseball fan who lives 25 minutes away from Space Coast, but prohibitively far from West Palm Beach. “I’ve seen the Marlins and the Expos. I adopted the Nationals. Before this whole field was here, I used to go to the Dodgers games. I love the Dodgers. Once the Marlins got here, I adopted the Marlins. This has been my team. And now I’m very disappointed.”…

Just above the Nationals’ first base dugout, close enough to see the players’ faces, near enough to joke with them, sits a devout crew of spring training season ticket holders. Some of them say they will buy tickets in West Palm Beach, too — drive be damned — if they can be certain they will get similar seats at the new stadium. Others, like Sandi Slesinger, will not be able to attend games as often anymore.

“We sit right behind the dugout so you’re sort of up close and personal. We just love ’em!” Slesinger said. “. . . We feel like they’re our sons, or our grandsons, they’re like my grandsons. We love coming to the games.”

The ballpark isn’t going away: the U.S. Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) is moving from Kissimmee’s Osceola County Stadium to take over the Space Coast Stadium and perhaps make a larger impact on the local economy than provided by the Nats, thanks to year-round tournaments. But it’s still a sad day when spring training ends in a community.

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