Author Topic: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast  (Read 7448 times)

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The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Topic Start: March 13, 2011, 10:38:40 AM »
Front page of Florida Today this morning:

http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20110313/NEWS01/103130334/Baseball-s-uncertain-future-Space-Coast

Quote
If Phil Finney had his way, there would always be spring training baseball in Brevard County. After all, the Merritt Island resident and his family have had the same seats behind the visiting dugout at Space Coast Stadium since it opened in 1994.

But Finney the businessman would understand if the Washington Nationals pulled up stakes, given the attention the team is getting from communities in Florida and Arizona who'd like to be their spring training home.

"I would surely hate to see them go," said Finney, who attends all 15 home games each spring.

Life without spring training in Viera, while not inevitable, is a real possibility within the next couple of years. The Nationals are exploring other options, near clusters of major league spring training facilities on Florida's Gulf Coast or in Arizona. Here, they are one of four teams training along the Atlantic Coast.

Travel conveniences, the chance to boost spring attendance with more attractive opponents, and perhaps improved financial and facilities terms all could provide a draw for the Nationals to leave Viera, heading west.

If the Nationals do go, it could prove much harder for Brevard County to find a replacement like it did after the Florida Marlins abandoned Space Coast Stadium after 2002. The impact could be felt along Florida's east coast, forcing remaining clubs to wrestle with whether to flee, too.

"I think if another team leaves the east coast, it makes it difficult for all the teams," said Bill Sutton, associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management program at the University of Central Florida.
Four's company

Should the Nationals decide to relocate, only the New York Mets, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Marlins would be left on this coast.

The Houston Astros are in Kissimmee and the Atlanta Braves call Walt Disney World home each spring. All other teams are hours-long bus rides away. In 2010, then Nationals pitcher Tyler Walker called it "an iPod league."

"We might go a little further now that Vero Beach doesn't have a team," Nationals manager Jim Riggelman said. "There's a little extra travel, no question. We make it work. Physically, it's not a drain on any of the staff. The players may feel it. We try to keep most of our regulars making half the trips at most, some of them less than that."

Pitcher Jason Marquis, set to begin his 12th big league season, said "it definitely takes a toll, it definitely doesn't allow you to get the work done that some teams would like."

Travel costs money and, perhaps more importantly, time.

"Spend the least time transporting and the most time practicing and playing. That's absolutely going to be an issue," said Sutton, the sports management expert from UCF.

"The proximity thing is very, very important," Sutton added. "Less time on the bus, less time moving around. More exposure and more integration, more split squad games. The closer you are, the more you can do. You get more options."

Among those options: a better variety of opponents. Location, and the travel problems it poses, has meant the Nationals play the same teams again and again each spring.

"So, you really don't see teams willing to move from the west coast over to play in Viera, and so you end up probably not having as representative a schedule as you want to, and that also impacts attendance for the fans because they don't get to see the teams they want to see," Sutton said.

In Orlando or along the Gulf Coast, the bigger cluster of teams could provide variety as well as big draws such as the Red Sox, Phillies and Yankees.

"Teams are going to look where they can get the most impact," Sutton said.
County holding firm

That's exactly what's driving the Nationals' thinking, at least according to what they've told county officials.

In late summer or early fall, County Manager Howard Tipton said Nationals executives gave him courtesy notice they were "exploring options" to leave.

"The options didn't have anything to do with the stadium or the community," Tipton said. "It was really just an issue of distance to neighboring teams, their desire to spend less time traveling."

The county is not recruiting other baseball teams, or taking other action, in case the Nationals depart.

"We continue to keep the position that we have a team. TheWashington Nationals are our team, and we're excited about their roster moves and looking forward to the coming season," he said.

"Hopefully, we'll continue to have them coming back here every year through 2017" when the team's Space Coast Stadium lease expires.

Tipton said the Nationals did not tell him they were scouting specific spring-training locations.

However, in early November, an Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast official warned that the Nationals might move to Arizona, e-mail records show. On Nov. 1, Greg Weiner, senior director of business development, wrote that officials in Mesa may be negotiating with the Nationals. Weiner said the city would likely put on a "full-court press" if voters rejected a measure to build a new stadium for the Chicago Cubs.

The following day, voters overwhelmingly approved spending up to $84 million for the Cubs' new "Wrigleyville" facility.

Published reports and public records have indicated the Nationals have toured or even negotiated with officials in Fort Myers and Osceola County about relocating, although officials in other communities remain mum.

"I can't confirm any of those discussions," said Larry White, communications director for the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau. "They have not reached my desk. Frankly, I have not heard a thing official or otherwise that suggests there's any truth to it."

Brevard County Commission Chairman Robin Fisher has heard rumors the Nationals may move, but said he expects the team to honor its contract here.

"I would be surprised that they would entertain not keeping their end of the bargain," Fisher said.

The Nationals, who have trained in Viera since their days as the Montreal Expos in 2003, are under contract to lease the 8,100-seat Space Coast Stadium through Dec. 31, 2017. If they default and leave, the team must reimburse the county for stadium construction-bond payments until another team moves in.

Bond payments average $765,000 per year. Stadium construction will be paid off in March 2013. Should the Nationals leave after paying off the bond, officials said the county would have to evaluate any contractual consequences.
Stiff competition

Teams changing locations is not unusual, and communities offering incentives to aggressively lure teams away is not new.

Arizona has a long history of luring teams from Florida, acquiring the Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals. Teams have been switching locations inside Florida for decades, with much of the shift sending teams west.

"It's an interesting question. Is the East Coast having trouble retaining or are other communities being a little more innovative and a little more aggressive?" said Sutton. "I think some of these markets, the Arizona people are very, very aggressive in retaining their teams and getting other teams to move out here."

Commissioner Fisher is not content leaving the stadium empty. "Sports fan bases are huge. So sports bring tourists. We'd have to regroup or attract another team. We might need to rethink how we use that facility in the future."

Fellow commissioner Chuck Nelson said spring training provides an important economic boost during the late winter months.

"I'd like to see it continue. I hope the Nationals are straightforward, and we can continue any discussions," Nelson said.
Dodgers different

Craig Callan knows the ins, the outs, and the impact of spring training team movement.

Callan was the Los Angeles Dodgers' Vice President of Spring Training and Minor League Facilities, when the club opted to leave its tradition-rich Vero Beach home base for Arizona. He attributes that not to fewer teams on Florida's east coast but the westward shift of the Dodgers' fan base.

"I can't speak for why other teams relocated," said Callan, now vice president of what was once called Dodgertown and is now known as Vero Beach Sports Village. "I can tell you the Dodgers re-located because our fan base was on the West Coast and as storied and as historic Dodgertown is, the reality was that in spring trainings for the last 10 years that we were here, we drew based on what teams we were playing.

"If the Red Sox were here, or the Yankees, we'd have sellout crowds and they'd be Yankee and Red Sox fans. It's hard for a West Coast team, the Dodgers, since 1958 to have a strong following because people like myself who grew up in Brooklyn and are my age, are thinning out.

"Our fan base was the reason for the move to Arizona for the Dodgers. I know it didn't have anything to do with the east coast, west coast of Florida. It had to do with going to the West Coast, which then gave the Dodgers' fans a one-hour flight versus a four-hour flight and a two-hour drive."

As the numbers drop on this coast, travel becomes an issue.

"If the Nationals were to leave Viera, the effect on the remaining three teams on the East Coast, it's pretty simple, it would force them to travel even further distances versus just going up and down the I-95 corridor," he said.

The St. Louis Cardinals and Florida Marlins, who share a facility in Jupiter, also have leases in force until 2017.

Sutton noted the Marlins likely would prefer to stay where they are, close to their South Florida fan base, if possible.

Callan said the Mets also would rather remain in Port St. Lucie.

"I would find it hard to see the Mets leave with the fan base they that they have in Port St. Lucie. People moved to Port St. Lucie just because the Mets went there when the Thomas J. White Corporation built that stadium," he said. "I think that's a pretty strong New York Mets fan base there."

Few are expressing optimism that new teams could be lured back to places such as Vero or, if the Nationals leave, Viera.
Dagger in the heart

The thought of the Nationals leaving is just vile for Cocoa's Rick Rey. He gets in line at 5:30 a.m. each year for tickets and has been attending spring training games in Brevard since the then-Houston Colt 45s called the Cocoa Expo home and at Space Coast since the Florida Marlins' 1994 arrival.

It's been a decades-long experience for Rey, 55, one that transcends just watching about a half dozen games a year from his seats behind the visiting dugout."It would be like a dagger in the heart so to speak," he said about a Nationals departure. "Not to see spring training any more, it would be devastating.

"You see people you have been seeing for 10, 15 years at the stadium. You get to meet people, you know people now. I've met people from Chicago . . . just all over the country. It would (stink)."

As for the Nationals contention that they are isolated: "There's still a bunch of teams in Florida," he said. "We need the teams here. Spring training's always been synonymous with Florida.

"Orlando has Disney, they have the Braves and there's other places. This is for all of us around here. This whole area. This is the only place we can see pro ball."

Offline machpost

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #1: March 14, 2011, 12:48:11 PM »
Whatever they do, I REALLY hope they don't leave the Grapefruit League. Heading down there for a couple games is quickly becoming a springtime ritual for me, and as nice as Arizona might be, it just doesn't hold the same appeal to me.

Offline JCA-CrystalCity

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #2: March 14, 2011, 01:06:00 PM »
Whatever they do, I REALLY hope they don't leave the Grapefruit League. Heading down there for a couple games is quickly becoming a springtime ritual for me, and as nice as Arizona might be, it just doesn't hold the same appeal to me.
It's kind of the opposite of why the Dodgers left Vero for AZ.  For east coasters, the Grapefruit trip is the short hop served by multiple air lines, while the cactus league is the pain in the butt cross country travel.

Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #3: March 14, 2011, 07:49:02 PM »
Most down here believe Arizona is smokescreen and bluff. The team can't be that stupid. However, when the Nats move from the Space Coast, coupled with the NASA layoffs, it will have a devastating effect around here.

Offline Lintyfresh85

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #4: March 14, 2011, 07:51:41 PM »
Most down here believe Arizona is smokescreen and bluff. The team can't be that stupid. However, when the Nats move from the Space Coast, coupled with the NASA layoffs, it will have a devastating effect around here.

What's the cost benefit to moving to Arizona and saving money traveling over pissing off, what, a couple 100 fans?

Better facilities, less travel, most likely bigger crowds... I don't see how moving to Arizona would be a bad thing... other than alienating the fans that made the annual trip down to Florida/Viera natives.

Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #5: March 14, 2011, 08:27:09 PM »
What's the cost benefit to moving to Arizona and saving money traveling over pissing off, what, a couple 100 fans?

Better facilities, less travel, most likely bigger crowds... I don't see how moving to Arizona would be a bad thing... other than alienating the fans that made the annual trip down to Florida/Viera natives.

A couple hundred fans?

I have to say that has to be one of the most ignorant things I have seen you post here Linty, especially a guy who has never made the pilgrimage himself.

Who will these bigger crowds consist of in Arizona? To see the Washington Nationals in Arizona-- who do you think is going to spend the money on that out there?

Offline PowerBoater69

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #6: March 14, 2011, 08:51:03 PM »
Not only is it not just a couple hundred fans, but it is the hardcore STH base making the trip down.  A whole lot of the same people who sit behind the Nats dugout in DC were sitting behind the dugout today.

Offline UMDNats

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #7: March 14, 2011, 08:57:21 PM »
I would really hate it if they moved to Arizona. I love making the trip to Florida with my dad.

Offline JCA-CrystalCity

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #8: March 14, 2011, 08:59:56 PM »
OF course, I'm rooting for Fort Myers if they move.  I'll buy a condo.

Offline Obed_Marsh

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #9: March 14, 2011, 09:03:26 PM »
I hope they don't go to Arizona. I won't make it there as often. I'd rather they didn't leave Space Coast unless they had to from a baseball type of decision. Too many good memories of that area.

BTW, anybody stopped by the Shamrock and Thistle in Titusville? I miss that place.

Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #10: March 14, 2011, 09:12:59 PM »
I hope they don't go to Arizona. I won't make it there as often. I'd rather they didn't leave Space Coast unless they had to from a baseball type of decision. Too many good memories of that area.

BTW, anybody stopped by the Shamrock and Thistle in Titusville? I miss that place.

I'm just outside Titusville. What is the place like?

Offline imref

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #11: March 14, 2011, 09:25:11 PM »
I would really hate it if they moved to Arizona. I love making the trip to Florida with my dad.

why would they go to AZ given all the other NL East teams are in FL?

Offline Obed_Marsh

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #12: March 14, 2011, 09:29:01 PM »
I'm just outside Titusville. What is the place like?

Irish/Scottish fusion bar. Sometimes live music. Classic dive bar. Dollar bills on the walls from all the over world and friendly locals. Real darts, a pool table, a few other games. Twenty or so different taps. The outside like a generic cement building, except what they have painted on it, but inside a pretty rocking Irish/Scottish bar. You wouldn't want to miss it.

The other bar to check out is the "Mermaid Bar" near Florida Today on the Indian river. It is less than ten minutes away from the stadium. As the night gets later, the more it turns into a singles bar but definitely a fun place too. Outside on the water or inside with the tunes.

Also if you are headed in the direction of Melbourne, try the Indian River Coffee company if you have any love for flavored coffee; the Nutty Nut/Santa's Helper is to die for...

Offline Lintyfresh85

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #13: March 14, 2011, 09:31:13 PM »
A couple hundred fans?

I have to say that has to be one of the most ignorant things I have seen you post here Linty, especially a guy who has never made the pilgrimage himself.

Who will these bigger crowds consist of in Arizona? To see the Washington Nationals in Arizona-- who do you think is going to spend the money on that out there?

I'm not saying they should... I'm saying I'd understand the reasons they would make such a move.

Trust me, as long as they stay in Florida... going to a Nats Spring Training is on my Sports Bucket List.

I salute you, and every person that goes down there on their own dime. I can't wait till I'm lucky enough to do the same.

Offline tomterp

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #14: March 14, 2011, 09:35:57 PM »
I'm just outside Titusville. What is the place like?

Flogging Molly's home bar.






 :mg:

Offline RD

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #15: March 14, 2011, 09:55:27 PM »
Florida isn't the only place National fans will show up in the spring.

I for one would be there every year if Spring Training is moved to AZ.

Offline natstime

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #16: March 14, 2011, 09:57:01 PM »
Florida isn't the only place National fans will show up in the spring.

I for one would be there every year if Spring Training is moved to AZ.

Same here, my uncle has a house out in Arizona.  I'd take 2 weeks off a  year to go watch.

Offline hammondsnats

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #17: March 14, 2011, 10:12:08 PM »
OF course, I'm rooting for Fort Myers if they move.  I'll buy a condo.

granted i have never been to either, i hear space coast > city of palms

Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #18: March 14, 2011, 10:13:49 PM »
Florida isn't the only place National fans will show up in the spring.

I for one would be there every year if Spring Training is moved to AZ.

No, but Florida is a damn lot more accessible to the fans of an East Coast team and if the Nats move farther west in Florida there will certainly be a lot more to do than just Phoenix.

As I said no one here is believing that AZ crap. Nats fans are alienated enough from their own team as is.

Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #19: March 14, 2011, 10:15:14 PM »
Flogging Molly's home bar.






 :mg:

Molly Malones? crap, if that were only true I'd never leave Florida.

Offline GburgNatsFan

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #20: March 14, 2011, 10:17:10 PM »
I happened to be in Phoenix on business last week. Caught a Rockies/Brewers game at the Milwaukee stadium in Maryvale.

The thing about the Phoenix area is that all the teams are packed in close - Drive from Goodyear to Mesa - an hour and a half in traffic - and you've covered probably eight teams. Plus there's almost no rain. The weather is very predictable.

That said, I do hope they stay in Florida. It's a long, long trip to Arizona.

Offline HalfSmokes

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #21: March 14, 2011, 10:18:51 PM »
Florida is a ling weekend, To justify going out to Dulles to fly to Arizona, would mean a real vacation, and for a lot of fans that isn't worth it

Offline Ali the Baseball Cat

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #22: March 14, 2011, 10:39:21 PM »
Have fun, I'm not setting foot in that freak nazi state

Florida isn't the only place National fans will show up in the spring.

I for one would be there every year if Spring Training is moved to AZ.

Offline MarquisDeSade

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #23: March 14, 2011, 10:40:50 PM »
Florida is a ling weekend, To justify going out to Dulles to fly to Arizona, would mean a real vacation, and for a lot of fans that isn't worth it

Yup.  Florida I can fly out of National for $150, rent a car and enjoy some baseball.  A move to AZ is going to require a trip out to the dreaded Dulles.  Boo.

Offline Obed_Marsh

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Re: The Future Of Baseball On The Space Coast
« Reply #24: March 14, 2011, 10:48:47 PM »
National has direct flights to Phoenix, AZ. The issue is it adds $300-500, extra flight time, and some time zone inconvenience. It is the family multiplier that is the killer here. It won't stop me from going but I am sure it would stop some people in the D.C. and the more people who grow up on this team, including the Spring Training experience, the better.