As of one of a series of high-profile cutbacks, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) vetoed $35 million in state funding for a new Pasco County sports complex that could serve as the new Tampa Bay Rays spring home.
Pasco County, located directly north of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in the greater Tampa Bay area, has been seeking to host spring training since at least 2014, with the basic plan remaining unchanged: the county would construct a large youth training complex and then devote a portion of the project to a new Tampa Bay Rays spring training home. The Rays currently train at Port Charlotte’s Charlotte Sports Park, a tenure that started strong and then faded over time. When the team first moved spring ops there from Al Lang Field and the Naimoli Complex in 2009, it was seen as a way for players to bond away from the team’s home at St. Petersburg. But times have changed, and with the Rays’ future in Tampa Bay up in the air, there’s plenty of change in the air. The team has also discussed training in a potential new full-season ballpark in Ybor City.
Pasco County is represented by Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby), and in his budget cuts DeSantis put a conservative spin on this, announcing the cuts from ultra-conservative The Villages and taking shots at big spending and subsidizing professional sports. (The spending had already been approved by the Florida Legislature.) While it’s totally unlikely the Rays would abandon spring training in Florida, there’s been support on both sides of the aisle for state aid for spring training, in the form of either direct state spending or the state program designed to help cities retain the sport. And in this case, there’s no agreement yet between Pasco County and the Rays for a new facility. From the Tampa Bay Times:
“Not unexpected, but it was disappointing that our youth sports complex was vetoed,” said Pasco commission chairperson Kathryn Starkey. “More disappointing are two of the other vetoes — Ridge Road and the recurring money for Moffitt.”
She remained optimistic about baseball being a part of Pasco County’s future.
“Things like that (state money for sports) are very hard to keep alive,” she said. “I’m not saying baseball is dead here because I still think we’ll have a conversation with the Rays, but this certainly makes it more difficult.”
Meanwhile, conservative media is portraying this as a strike against a politically correct Tampa Bay Rays team, especially in light of social media statements where the team spoke out against assault rifles. Sure, the takes from Outkick.com–Clay Travis’s website, now owned by FOX–are factually incorrect (Pasco County would receive the funds for a training complex and youth facility, not the Rays), but no matter: the message from Travis is that teams who don’t conform to DeSantis’s political views deserve to be punished. State spending on sports facilities is always worth discussing, but there was little discussion here. Just a veto.