Regular readers here know that I have a high level of interest in spring training baseball in the east coast of Florida.
With just three teams remaining in the area and those clubs having outs in their leases, it seemed possible as recently as two years ago that all could decide to pull out. The teams are the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie and the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter.
Instead, the roots are growing deeper now that the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are building a new shared complex, scheduled to open next spring, called Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
As one might expect, when there are winners, there are losers as well. The two new arrivals are coming from Kissimmee and Viera, respectively, leaving just the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates in the central Florida area.
Atlanta’s relationship with its Disney landlord looks to be nearing its end, anyway, but the conclusion could be another victory for the east coast. An earlier proposal for the Braves to move to the St. Petersburg area on the Gulf Coast has lost steam.
As a result, the Braves are looking elsewhere, including Palm Beach County, where they have hired a consultant to lobby with area officials, reports the Palm Beach Post. Though no site has been selected, it is believed that the southern portion of the county may be preferred by the Braves.
There is a built-in affinity with the area due to Atlanta having made its Florida base in West Palm Beach for 35 years prior to bolting in 1998.
The prospect of a sixth team in the vicinity is very positive for minor league player development. An even number of teams would mean each organization could have an external opponent each day in spring training, compared to the current odd alignment, which leads to one team holding a “camp day” each third day on the average (or fifth day starting in 2017). In today’s set up, an organization has to conduct internal scrimmages on those days the other teams are playing each other.
A sixth team would change that – with the potential benefits being felt in every aspect of minor league operations – spring training, extended spring training, the Florida State League, the Gulf Coast League and fall instructional league camp. In-season benefits would include shorter bus rides and more diverse opponents.
While it is still very early, the Braves’ plans clearly bear watching.
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