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Is State funding the answer to Grapefruit League woes?

Though spring training 2013 has long ended, maneuverings continue for the future of baseball in Florida and specifically, the tenuous spring training situation on the state’s East Coast. Now, more State assistance is on the way to help make it happen.

Earlier this spring, the Palm Beach Post ran a long article about the interest of some Sunshine State legislators to pump more money to municipalities for spring training facilities and history of similar initiatives in the past. The goal remains to head off further MLB club moves to Arizona.

Among the points made:

  • Spring training benefits the state of Florida by $750 million per year.
  • Of Florida’s 15 spring training clubs, three have facility leases up for renewal in 2016 and two more expire in 2017. The Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays are currently negotiating leases or looking to move.
  • If one more team leaves their area, the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets would have the right to ask out of their leases as well.
  • Six teams have left Florida for Arizona since 1998.

Earlier, the State agreed to reward money to municipalities for facility improvements for 10 Major League Baseball squads that trained in Florida. Since 2001, local governments have received almost $43 million of $122 million the State promised over 15- to 30-year periods to build new stadiums or upgrade current grounds.

Here is where it gets interesting. Of those 10 MLB squads named as beneficiaries, three have already moved from the localities receiving assistance, including two of the clubs bolting to Arizona.

In other words, it seems like those development dollars have not always provided the desired benefit, yet officials perhaps feel they have no choice but to spend more in trying.

Some of the examples include:

  • On behalf of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Indian River County was committed $15 million over 30 years, and has received over $6 million. The Dodgers left Vero Beach for Arizona in 2008. No MLB club replaced them.
  • In support of the Baltimore, the City of Fort Lauderdale was committed $15 million over 30 years. Starting in 2007, just under $2.3 million has been paid to date. The Orioles finalized their move to Sarasota in 2010. No MLB club took their place in Fort Lauderdale.
  • For the Cincinnati Reds, the City of Sarasota was pledged $15 million over 30 years starting in 2007. Over $3 million has been paid to date. The Reds left for Arizona in 2009, though the Orioles moved into Sarasota the next year.

The Marlins’ and Cardinals’ shared facility, Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, is one of only six Florida spring training sites to have not received state assistance.

News out of Houston has Astros owner Jim Crane working with the State and with Palm Beach area officials to build a new spring training complex. The proposed facility, in Palm Beach Gardens, would house two organizations in a sharing arrangement similar to the Cardinals and Marlins complex in Jupiter. The Blue Jays, which currently train in Dunedin on the Gulf Coast side of the state, would be Houston’s partner.

A key requirement for the new facility was met within the last two weeks. The Florida legislature went ahead and authorized state funds for the building of new and improvement of existing spring training facilities for relocated clubs in the Sunshine State. The bill earmarks $3.3 million per year spending. Its time frame, starting in 2015, could be ideal for the Astros, whose lease in Kissimmee expires in 2016.

If this comes to pass, the Cardinals would greatly benefit. The number of teams within a short distance from Jupiter (30 miles or less) would double – from two to four.

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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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6 Responses to “Is State funding the answer to Grapefruit League woes?”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    There seem more prospective spring training ballparks than teams to use them all. So the 30 ML teams must have a lot of leverage to obtain sweet deals on great ballparks from States and towns.

    Florida seems willing to compete to ensure it retains some ML teams. Spring training in Florida will not go the way of the dinosaurs.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Cards are tied for best record in MLB and get to feast next on the Cubs. We have a super road record which is an encouraging sign.

  3. blingboy says:

    The dry spring weather in Arizona and the teams all clustered in one metro area has an advantage. Florida is trying to offset that advantage by handing out taxpayer money.

    Here is a map of the Cactus League stadiums, and the teams that play there. Some have two teams, some have one.

  4. blingboy says:

    Adams should be in an ornery mood tomorrow in Chicago. His team is getting their butts kicked 8-0 so far. Matt is 0-2 with a GIDP against some AA guy. I hope MM puts him in the lineup tomorrow.

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