Brevard County is pumping some serious money into Space Coast Stadium in what might be a last-ditch effort to keep the Nationals from moving their spring training home from the facility in Viera, Fla.
According to News 13 in Orlando, the Brevard County Commissioners have designated $325,000 for repairs and improvements to Space Coast Stadium, the Nats' spring training home since 2003, when they were the Montreal Expos. The facility also is home to the Single-A Brevard County Manatees, an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers that plays in the Florida State League.
The funds have been designated primarily to repair leaks and water damage at the 18-year-old stadium.
The Nationals are exploring moving their spring training base and minor league facilities for Fort Myers, in southwest Florida, where they would join the Twins and Red Sox. The team has been discussing a move into the vacant City of Palms Park, which most recently housed the Red Sox before they moved into the new JetBlue Park in March.
Because there are so few major league teams holding spring training on Florida's east coast - the Nats in Viera, the Cardinals and Marlins in Jupiter and the Mets in Port St. Lucie - travel has become an issue for the Nationals. Their closest opponent, the Astros in Kissimmee, are an hour east of Viera, while the Mets are about 70 minutes south, and the Marlins and Cardinals almost two hours south.
Brevard County officials hope the newly designated funds will make the Nationals reconsider a move from Viera. The Nationals have a lease with the county for Space Coast Stadium through 2017, but penalties for breaking the lease are significantly reduced after spring training in 2013.
"We hope so, we definitely do, and you know, all indications are they have obligations and commitment on their lease with us, and we have every expectation they'll fulfill that and no one has told us anything different and we're planning on them being here," Brevard County commissioner Robin Fisher told News 13.
Meanwhile, the Nationals' talks with Lee County were part of the fodder for a Wednesday night debate between candidates for Lee County Commissioners in Cape Coral, Fla., according to the Fort Myers News-Press. Candidates offered differing opinions on whether Fort Myers needed a third team for spring training.
Incumbent District 1 commissioner John Manning acknowledged that Lee County reaps substantial economic benefit from the Twins and Red Sox during spring training, but said, "it is not financially feasible to have a third team."
Charlie Whitehead, a candidate for the seat in District disagreed, saying, "Do we need three teams? We have three stadiums and two teams. Yes, we need three teams."
Relocating to Fort Myers for spring training and other Florida-based activities would place the Nationals much closer to more teams.
Aside from the two other teams already in Fort Myers, the Rays train about an hour away in Port Charlotte, the Orioles are about 90 minutes north in Sarasota and the Pirates train just north of Sarasota in Bradenton. Further north, about two hours away, are the Blue Jays in Dunedin, the Phillies in Clearwater, the Yankees in Tampa and the Tigers in Lakeland. The Braves in Lake Buena Vista and the Astros in Kissimmee would be about three hours away.