LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The Nationals appear to be taking tentative steps toward moving their spring training home from Space Coast Stadium to Fort Myers, Fla.
According to this tweet from Peter Gammons of the MLB Network and MLB.com, the Nationals have given Lee County their plans for a reconstruction of City of Palms Park, the former spring base of the Red Sox. Boston moved into JetBlue Park this spring, leaving their old facility empty and with an unsure future.
The key will be whether Lee County - already home to the Red Sox and Twins for spring training - can afford upgrades at Hammond Stadium in the Lee County Sports Complex, the home of the Twins, and the proposed alterations the Nationals want at City of Palms Park. If that happens, the Nationals could begin training there in 2014.
City of Palms Park is not without its logistical problems, but the Nationals apparently believe they can be overcome. The minor league complexes used by the Red Sox before they vacated for their new stadium are a couple of miles from the facility. Boston trained there from 1993-2011 after moving from Winter Haven, Fla.
The Nationals can break their lease, which runs through 2017, with Brevard County for Space Coast Stadium after the 2013 Grapefruit League season. The Nationals have trained there since 2003, when they were the Expos, and swapped spring training sites with the then-Florida Marlins, who took over the Expos’ half of the facility they shared in Jupiter, Fla., with the Cardinals.
Brevard County would like to keep the Nationals, but the dearth of teams on Florida’s east coast has become a problem for the four teams who still have camps there - the Nationals, the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and the Cardinals/Marlins operation in Jupiter. When the Dodgers departed Vero Beach, Fla., in 2008 for a new facility in Arizona, it created problems for the teams remaining on the east coast.
The Nationals’ closest opponent during Grapefruit League play is the Astros, who are 53 miles away in Kissimmee, Fla. Should they move to Fort Myers, there would be three teams - the Twins and Red Sox in Fort Myers, and the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla. - within an hour’s drive, and two more clubs - the Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., and the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., - within two hours .
Should the Nationals move, the Mets, Cardinals and Marlins could trigger escape clauses in their leases to move their spring training sites because fewer than four teams would exist on Florida’s east coast, which once hosted more than a half-dozen teams.
There are other options for the Nationals - they’ve been linked to a shared arrangement in Port St, Lucie with the Mets and have discussed a new shared complex in Kissimmee with the Astros - but it’s clear that Washington’s ownership would prefer its own facility. The Lerner family has visited sites in Arizona, but doesn’t appear serious about moving the team’s spring base there.