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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Would a Cubbies spring move to Florida help the Cardinals?

A hot topic currently being discussed and debated in Arizona has to do with the prospect of the Chicago Cubs leaving Mesa when their lease offers them an out after 2012. They have called Arizona their spring home since 1952 interrupted by only one year in California.

One of my most enduring memories of the Cubs is listening each spring for Harry Caray’s slurring attempts to pronounce the name of Mesa’s Hohokam Stadium. It ranked right up there with his rendition of Fernando Valenzuela for entertainment value. But since Harry is gone, why not the Cubs, too?

The climate may be right as the new deep-pocketed owners of the Cubbies, the Ricketts family from Omaha and TD Amertrade fame, have no particular allegiance to Mesa and Arizona.

Cubs president Crane Kenney recently announced they are seriously entertaining an offer from a Naples, Florida group to move the Cubs there starting in 2013. The Florida group, led by executives from Esmark Inc. with Chicago ties, would build a privately-financed complex. They even have a website with a petition for Cubs fans to sign.

If the move actually happens, it would be the first bit of good news in a long time for a reeling Grapefruit League. Currently Florida and Arizona each have 15 spring training camps with the trend clearly aiming west.

Since 2003, five teams have relocated from Florida to Arizona, with the Cincinnati Reds the latest. They have left Sarasota to join the Cleveland Indians in Goodyear, Arizona for spring 2010. Perhaps the biggest blow was the Dodgers’ abandonment of Vero Beach’s Dodgertown, a spring training icon now owned by Minor League Baseball.

The problem in Florida remains the geographic disbursement of sites. Spring training bases are clustered in three groups – in the central, southwest (on the Gulf Coast) and southeast (along the Atlantic Ocean). Travel outside the cluster for games, especially to the southeast, is rare due to the three- to four-hour bus rides involved. For minor league games, it is completely out of the question.

Along with the departure of the Dodgers in 2008, the Cardinals have lost another nearby opponent in 2010 and beyond as the Orioles have moved to Sarasota, replacing the Reds. Ft. Lauderdale Stadium joins Dodgertown’s Holman Stadium among the tenant-less spring parks that formerly welcomed St. Louis regularly.

That means the Marlins and Mets remain the only clubs within an hour of the Cardinals in Jupiter. The Nationals are next closest at 110 miles, two hours away in Viera.

It is quite amazing given the quantity of people in South Florida that there are no longer any spring camps in the entire Miami-Ft. Lauderdale corridor. Guess they are all waiting to attend Marlins regular season games…

The Cubs’ potential arrival in Naples, on the Gulf Coast, would provide a nearby opponent for the Rays, Twins and Red Sox, but not much help for the Cardinals. They would probably at best offer St. Louis a pair of games each spring due to the distance. Naples is 163 miles, 2 hours and 40 minutes across Alligator Alley away from Jupiter.

For example, in 2010, the Twins and Sawx play the Cards one home and one away spring game, while the Rays are off the schedule completely. Link to Cardinals 2010 spring schedule.

In summary, it may be good for Florida if the Cubs relocate, but the Cardinals’ geographic problem remains with no solution in sight.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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