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50 years ago, the Grapefruit League was far less complicated

When I reminiscence about the days when the St. Louis Cardinals held their spring training camps in St. Petersburg, Florida, I am reminded that I am getting older. Some readers/listeners have no understanding or recollection of what I am talking about. The club first moved to the Gulf community in 1938 and left after the 1997 season.

One thing I remember with special fondness is the covers of the scorecards at Al Lang Stadium, which offered a graphical representation of the Grapefruit League. Over the years, I made it to most of those ballparks, with the historic Dodgertown complex in Vero Beach my favorite.

Though I was not there 50 years ago, the pictured cover from 1963 provides a reminder of how much change has occurred. Major League Baseball had then expanded to 20 teams, 10 in each league. 14 of them had their spring training base in the Sunshine State with multiple concentrations of teams clustered near one another, easing travel.

Fast forward to today. While 15 clubs have camps in Florida, another 15 are located in Arizona, up from just six in 1963. While the former still has the beach, the battle is being lost to the desert. The Land of the Sun offers a more consistent climate for players to get in their work.

The greatest advantage of the Cactus League, however, may be its geographic concentration. The large number of available opponents in the Phoenix metro area makes scheduling straightforward and travel easy.

The Grapefruit League, on the other hand, is feeling the squeeze. The problem is worst on the East Coast. The Cardinals, Marlins and Mets, the only clubs within two hours of each other, each have an out clause in their lease in case one of the others bolts for greener pastures.

The Washington Nationals, located in a dreary facility in Viera, are likely the next to move, but Houston Astros owner Jim Crane could hold the key. Crane also owns The Floridian National Golf Club in Palm City, just 25 miles from Jupiter and less than 15 from Port St. Lucie.

Rumors have the ‘Stros considering relocating from Kissimmee and building a facility in the Palm City-Stuart area that could house two clubs – a comparable arrangement to the one the Cards and Marlins enjoy in Jupiter. An ideal scenario would be for the Nats to join the Astros there.

The Cardinals returning to St. Pete is a futile wish, but here is hoping Grapefruit League baseball overall can receive the shot of Vitamin C it needs to remain healthy for a long time in the future.

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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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9 Responses to “50 years ago, the Grapefruit League was far less complicated”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    Now that I see the maps, I am less persuaded about the “problem.”
    Maybe veteran million dollar year ballplayers have to take long bus trips during spring training. They may grouse about this terrible hardship, but I have zero sympathy. They can ride live inside a bus for a few weeks, as far as I am concerned. Their lives are still super easy and pleasant.
    There are still 15 teams in Florida. Everything seems fine. No real problem.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Because you say it isn’t? That’s funny. You obviously have little understanding of what is involved. There is a lot more going on than 30 MLB games each March.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Please bear in mind, the article was literally about the Grapefruit League, which would tend to define the issue as 30 ML games each March.

        There look like five teams on the west coast, south of Bradenton. How long is the driving time to Bradenton?

        • Brian Walton says:

          I did not think that I had to explain to you the ramifications to the rest of an organization in relation to the location of its spring training base.

          If you let it, Google can be your friend. 168 miles, three hours and 12 minutes in each direction between Jupiter and Bradenton.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            There seem 12 teams in the Florida State League and 14 maybe it was in the Gulf Coast League.

            I can see how it might be nice if some teams were closer to Jupiter, but a 3.25 hour bus ride does not seem like a massive burden. Sarasota is so nice, it should always have a team. The worst case problem for the Cards, Mets, and Marlins might be they have to drive to Sarasota.

            There are fringe benefits being in Jupiter. The Cards found Tony Cruz and Kevin Siegrist nearby as unheralded amateurs. Florida is good territory for scouting amateurs.

            • Nutlaw says:

              Three plus hours each way doesn’t seem like it could better be used practicing than sitting on a bus?

              • JumboShrimp says:

                Working deep down in a coal mine seems hazardous. However riding a bus for 3.25 hours each way around the Sunshine State does not rank high among my concerns. The young men can read books or ask the coaches for tips. The time can be used constructively, by those who aspire to improve themselves.
                I just did some snow shoveling that helped a mail carrier by opening a sidewalk for her practice of the threatened tradition of Saturday mail delivery. As I shovel, do I care if baseball players have to take a 3 hour bus ride to Sarasota, playpen of the well-to-do? Perhaps surprisingly, no. Jumbo cares more about the mail delivery lady and jobs for everyday folks.
                At least I am consistent. Do I want to re-bailout the owners of the Peoria Chiefs? No. Do I care if rich baseball players have to be inconvenienced to be shuttled by bus around the glorious Sunshine State? No.
                Happily, I was charmed by the 1963 score card above. After dark adventures in the Tiki Room, compliments of the gracious host, Henry Hayn. Uncomplicated, happy times indeed.

            • Brian Walton says:

              You are grasping at straws, Jumbo. Where scouts find prospects has nothing to do with the location of a club’s spring training camp. Zero. Nada.

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