With pitchers and catchers reporting this past weekend, Spring Training is officially open for the Nationals. But will this be their last Grapefruit League season at Space Coast Stadium in Viera?
Several media reports from the Sunshine State have the Nats looking at some new options as they move closer to contention in the National League East. According to Florida Today, the team is unhappy about a lack of nearby opponents. Only three other teams currently train on Florida’s East Coast, and it takes more than an hour to get to those sites from Viera. The New York Mets train in Port St. Lucie, 72 miles away, and the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals are in Jupiter, a 110-mile jaunt. In fact, the Nats’ closest competition is the Astros’ camp in Kissimmee, still an hour’s drive.
The News-Press (Fort Myers, Fla.), reports that negotiations will open soon with officials in Lee County, where the Boston Red Sox have left their longtime home in Fort Myers, City of Palms Park, for a new stadium nearby. That would make the Nats virtual next-door neighbors with the Red Sox and Minnesota Twins, and put them less than an hour from the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte. The Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles also train on the popular “Sun Coast” of Florida.
Florida Today also reports that St. Luicie County is considering expanding the Mets’ training facility to accommodate another team. A move there would put the Nationals closer to the Mets, Cardinals, Marlins and the teams in Southwest Florida, but farther from the concentration of teams in the Tampa and Sarasota area.
Spring Training is big business in Florida, and with the competition for tourist dollars at a premium in a struggling economy, the negotiations are sure to be serious. General Manager Mike Rizzo will be looking out for his team’s best interests, not only in terms of location, but also stadium amenities and other perks that each location can provide. In the long run, it’s probably best for the team to look for a new spring training home, one where travel won’t be a major concern and fans will have a nice ballpark to enjoy the spring games.