Pro baseball has never been an overwhelming success in Viera, and now it looks like there's a serious chance the Florida city may lose both spring training and Class A ball at Space Coast Stadium.
Currently Space Coast Stadium hosts Washington Nationals spring training and the Brevard County Manatees (High Class A; Florida State League). It's no secret the Nationals want out: team ownership has talked with several communities about hosting the team and is scheduled to talk with Lee County officials on Aug. 31 about a possible move to City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, the former spring home of the Boston Red Sox. It doesn't sound like Lee County has the money for ballpark renovations sought by the Nats, so it will be more a matter of the county telling the Nats how much they're loved and needed. Let the wooing begin. The team can move once debt on the ballpark is paid off, currently scheduled for 2014.
What's new: another attempt by the Manatees ownership to move the team. The team has requested permission to explore a move to Orlando, we're told. Again, this desire isn't new -- the Manatees ownership hails from Orlando and have made no secret about wanting to see the team there -- but this is a new effort. Orlando is seen by many as an attractive destination for Minor League Baseball, as both Ripken Baseball and the New York Yankees have pitched ballpark plans in the area, as well as the Manatees ownership. (Depending on how you count Daytona Beach, Orlando is the largest MSA in the country without professional baseball.) Technically, the Manatees have specified Orange County as a new home, but a move to an existing ballpark (Champion Stadium or Osceola County Stadium) isn't on the agenda. Again, the team can move in a couple of years -- which is about the time it would take to build a new ballpark somewhere in the Orlando area.
So, by the end of the 2014 season -- when debt on Space Coast Stadium is scheduled to be retired -- the community could end up with no pro ball. And, to be honest, no reason for Space Coast Stadium to exist.
In theory, Viera should be a good market for spring training; the demographics are strong, there's plenty of upscale retail within a few miles of the ballpark, and the retirement community is usually a pretty good part of spring-training attendance. But the community has never embraced spring-training baseball: the Florida Marlins were pretty much ignored as the ballpark's first spring tenant, the Montreal Expos failed to draw and the Nationals -- despite having an up-and-coming team the last few years -- didn't make an impact among locals. Now, if the Nats have a good run in the playoffs, that may change next spring, but it really doesn't address some of the other problems associated with a Viera location, including the lack of easy access to other spring-training camps (only the Mets, Cards and Marlins are left on the Treasure Coast, and Orlando is more than an hour away, as the bee buzzes).
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