With the St. Louis Cardinals packing up their equipment following their final Grapefruit League game of 2011 on Tuesday, mixed signals are being received regarding their long-term future in Jupiter, Florida.
Last week, some excitement was generated when it was announced that the Cardinals and Florida Marlins tentatively agreed to a ten-year lease extension with Palm Beach County for continued use of the Roger Dean Stadium complex for spring training and their Florida State League clubs.
First reported by the Palm Beach Post, extension of the agreement through 2027 was crucial in resolving a stalemate over holding of funds for needed maintenance to the facility and clarification on future sourcing of those moneys.
That is not the primary rub over the long haul, however. Both teams demanded and were granted contract wording that allows them to leave Jupiter early in one of two cases. They can bolt if the New York Mets, who train in Port St. Lucie, or the Washington Nationals, who are located in Viera, move from the east coast of Florida.
While the Mets are talking like they are staying put, Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner is making noise like a man soon to be on the move. He confirmed to the Washington Post that the Nationals are actively exploring options to build a new facility on the Gulf Coast of Florida. If that is not successful, Lerner also identified Arizona as a viable option.
Lerner did commit that the Nationals will remain in Viera “at least the next couple years for sure.” Their lease at off-the-beaten-path Space Coast Stadium runs through 2017, but they have an out clause in 2013. Brevard County officials seem resigned to the possibility of losing the Nats, realizing they cannot solve the root issue.
Lerner made it clear that the Nats’ primary “problem” is logistical. The distance between spring training sites has created an untenable travel schedule for them and all the east coast Florida clubs. This situation is not likely to improve, as no teams appear to be interested in moving into the area. It will certainly get worse for the Mets, Cardinals and Marlins if the Nationals relocate.
The new Cardinals-Marlins-Palm Beach County deal is not yet final. The proposal will be reviewed by the Tourist Development Council on April 14 before it appears on the agenda of the County Commission on May 3.
It may not matter over the long term. The Washington Post story also noted almost in passing that the Cardinals have reportedly already been quietly looking into options in the Orlando area. Better scheduling would be possible for their entire baseball operations there.
The current travel distances aren’t just an issue for the major leaguers. Because of the long bus rides, Cardinals minor leaguers are forced to play themselves every third day all spring long when the Mets and Marlins minor leaguers face off – a suboptimal arrangement to say the least.
Despite Cardinals ownership reaffirming their satisfaction with their Florida home since 1998, a Washington shift could also pull St. Louis out of their Jupiter orbit. If the Nationals relocate, St. Louis may have no choice but to get serious about a corresponding move to an area with more conveniently-located competitors.
Time will tell if the proposed ten-year Jupiter extension ends up being anything more than window dressing.
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