The Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros are discussing a new joint spring-training complex with Osceola County officials, as a site near DisneyWorld is under consideration.
The complex, we're told, would be south of DisneyWord and in the very northwestern corner of Osceola County, an area served by I-4 and Florida Toll 429.
Both teams have passed on offers by reps from Winter Haven, Fort Myers and Mesa to discuss moving spring operations to their cities. There's been talk of a new complex in Winter Haven located near (but not part of) a new LegoLand theme park, but the issue there is money: elected city and county reps want to see a team step up with some serious funding of a new facility, but there's no way either team will spend significantly on a complex. Fort Myers officials continue their quest to fill City of Palms Park, but the problems encountered by the Boston Red Sox would also be there for a new team: a ballpark in an iffy neighborhood with a training complex a mile away. And while there's some logic in the Astros seeking an Arizona home, the split nature of HoHoKam Park and Fitch Field is also seen as an impediment. (And for our dear readers who will inevitably suggest Al Lang Field as a destination for the teams, forget it: the lease between the Tampa Bay Rays and the city of St. Petersburg for Tropicana Field expressly forbids another team from training there.)
The Astros have three years left on their spring-training lease -- about the right time for a new complex to open, given how long it could take to procure a funding and design plan. Osceola County Stadium is the smallest spring-training facility in baseball, seating only 5,300. The Astros do not have exclusive use of the complex, either; for most of the year the ballpark is leased for U.S. Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), Triple Crown and World Baseball Federation events; indeed, the USSSA is headquartered at the ballpark, as is the USSSA Hall of Fame and Sports Museum.
The Nats' lease at Space Coast Stadium and the Carl Barger training complex doesn't expire until 2017, but the team can move early if it pays off construction loans -- currently valued at $765,000 a year and scheduled to be paid off in 2013. Stan Kasten had approached Osceola County officials about a new complex solely for the Nats and was rebuffed; the prospect of luring the Nats, keeping the Astros and maintaining Osceola County Stadium as a viable baseball site is a much different beast.
Also being discussed: whether a new complex would also host minor-league baseball in the summer. It's no secret the ownership of the Brevard County Manatees (High Class A; Florida State League) have explored a relocation to the general Orlando area, and a new ballpark in Kissimmee would be a perfect way for Minor League Baseball to return to the city.
A move by the Nats from the Treasure Coast could have a ripple effect for teams also located there: the Cardinals, the Marlins and the Mets. The Cards and the Marlins have already signaled to Palm Beach County that they could be looking for a new spring-training home should the Nationals leave; and while the Mets have been steadfast in their support of Digital Domain Park, it's highly unlikely they'd stay there if other teams left, either. We can see a situation where all 15 teams training in Florida are located in a band ranging from Orlando to the north and Fort Myers to the south.
(Above: Fans at Osceola County Stadium during spring training.)
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