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.