Unless you are a regular reader of this blog, you may be wondering why a St. Louis Cardinals-focused writer would be covering the spring training home of the Houston Astros. After all, the Houstonians are no longer even divisional rivals of the Cardinals, having been relocated to the American League West.
The current Grapefruit League alignment has the Cardinals, their Jupiter partners from Miami and the New York Mets as the only teams located in southeast Florida. This limitation causes scheduling impacts, especially for minor league spring training, extended spring training and fall instructional league.
There was considerable excitement in 2013 when the Houston Astros, currently training in Kissimmee (near Orlando), recruited the Toronto Blue Jays, inhabitants of the Tampa-area burg of Dunedin since their 1977 inception, to join them in a new state-of-the-art dual-team facility in Palm Beach Gardens.
It would be just a stone’s throw from Jupiter, offering the Cards two additional opponents nearby during spring training. It would also ease travel for the Florida State League Cardinals and create additional variety of competition for all minor leaguers in various Jupiter-based camps as well as the Gulf Coast League Cardinals.
On a longer-term basis, the arrival of the ‘Stros and Jays would block any of the three current area clubs from having the right to exercise escape clauses in their current leases. In all fairness, none have threatened to move, but at some point, if clubs continue to flee Florida, it would seem to have to become a consideration.
The fly in the ointment is the citizens of Palm Beach Gardens, who adopted a “NIMBY” attitude toward the proposed baseball complex. Due to concerns about traffic, light and noise, the City Council directed all work be stopped on the project.
While the Astros still hope to find another 100-acre location in Palm Beach County, the team’s general counsel who is also leading the project is not waiting around. The teams want a new home to be ready for spring 2017, so construction needs to get underway by the end of 2014.
As a result of the rejection, Giles Kibbe was quoted by MLB.com as saying he will also be looking elsewhere in Florida – and even in Arizona.
The latter was a direct volley fired at the Sunshine State, loser of many MLB clubs to Arizona in recent years. The current tally between the states is 15-15. Florida knows getting teams to move back east would be very difficult against the current tide.
In their desire to encourage teams to stay put, the Florida state legislature has anted up. They have earmarked $50 million in funding for the new facility, which would reportedly cost between $100 million and $110 million to build.
Lest one think the mention of Arizona is an idle threat, however, a move west would provide clear benefits to the Astros. Not only is it closer to Texas, the Phoenix area hosts 15 other MLB clubs in close proximity, including every other Western Division team – in both leagues.
Here is hoping it never gets to that and the issues can be resolved to enable the Astros and Jays to relocate to southeast Florida. But the matter is much cloudier this month than last.