Nationals Play Chess with Brevard County
Florida Today baseball writer Mark DeCotis broke the story on August 6 that the Washington Nationals have contacted Osceola County about moving their spring training complex to Kissimmee.
If the Nats move, the irony is that it would be the second time Brevard County has lost a major league club to Kissimmee. The Astros left Cocoa Expo Stadium in 1984 for Kissimmee.
I wrote on April 3 about Florida Today reporting that Nationals officials were touring a facility in Ft. Myers that’s currently used by the Boston Red Sox.
Nationals officials have not commented publicly on their dalliances with Osceola and Lee Counties, but a letter obtained by DeCotis made it clear the Nationals were interested in exploring a move to Kissimmee.
Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten sent a letter to Osceola County officials last month expressing interest in possibly moving the team’s spring training home from Viera to Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee.
Kasten sent the letter to Osceola County Manager Don Fisher. In the correspondence dated July 26, Kasten wrote to Fisher: “It was nice speaking to you last Thursday and it was very interesting hearing about the potential for a new spring training complex in Osceola County.
“I would certainly be interested in meeting with you and hearing more about your plans in greater detail, as we consider our own future spring training plans. In the event Osceola County is interested in moving forward, please let me know.”
If you’re of a conspiratorial bent, it would be reasonable to assume that Kasten knew full well any written correspondence he sent to Osceola would be a public document and potentially leaked.
The July 26 letter might have been intended to pressure Brevard officials into approving improvements for Space Coast Stadium. Florida Today reported on August 4 that county commissioners approved $316,000 in improvements for 2011. The letter was sent a week before the Brevard vote.
The Nationals’ lease runs through December 31, 2017, so if they leave “the club must reimburse the county for Space Coast Stadium construction-bond payments until another team moves in, said Shannon Wilson, assistant county attorney.”
As for Lee County, the Ft. Myers News-Press reported on August 6 that “the county remains interested in the Nationals.”
Jeff Mielke, executive director of the Lee County Sports Authority, wasn’t surprised to hear the Nationals are showing interest elsewhere.
“We all thought the Nationals would shop around,” Mielke said.
He believes it’s likely that the Nationals could leave Florida’s east coast. Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Vero Beach all had spring training teams but no longer do. That makes for few convenient road trips for the Nationals.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that the east coast is getting a little tougher,” Mielke said.
The Nationals are hardly the only major league team to play hardball with a municipal landlord.
Most recently, the Chicago Cubs played Mesa, Arizona against Naples, Florida, hoping to extort stadium improvements out of Mesa. But Naples withdrew in July, leaving the Cubs without their leverage.
In November 2003, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno threatened to move the team’s spring training complex from Tempe, Arizona across the Phoenix valley to Goodyear, where Moreno was a partner in a residential and commercial development. The extortion worked, as one year later Tempe agreed to finance $20 million in stadium improvements, including a new minor league complex.
The local financial benefits are questionable for a municipality to host a major league baseball spring training.
Studies will often cite gross revenue and other indirect impacts. One example is this 1999 study by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council which concluded that the “Total impact of the nine teams on Florida’s economy is $227 million.”
But the study failed to look at the costs accrued by cities, counties and the State of Florida to build and maintain publicly owned facilities. Nor did they consider alternate uses of public land that might generate more revenue. Public land is not subject to property tax, while private land is.
Neither do these studies mention that most of these facilities include a minor league complex that will operate almost year-around, with games played from March through October. No revenue is generated from those games, as no admission or parking fee is charged, but municipal landlords are responsible for maintenance and rehabilitation costs unless otherwise specified in the lease.
Should the Nationals threaten to leave, Brevard County should conduct a thorough economic study that weighs these other options. In the long run, would the county receive more revenue from another land use at Space Coast Stadium? One scenario might be to raze the ballpark, and sell the land for residential and commerical use. The minor league complex might be preserved for use by amateur adult and youth sports.
The orphan in most of these scenarios would be the Brevard County Manatees of the Florida State League. The Manatees are a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate, not a Nationals affiliate. Space Coast Stadium’s 8,000-seat capacity is way too much for the Manatees’ needs. The Manatees are averaging about 1,300 per game in 2010; even in their best years, they rarely average more than 2,000.
The Manatees would be best served by construction of a 2,500-seat capacity stadium. An excellent location, in my opinion, would be the current site of Cocoa Expo at the I-95 and the 520 highway. But either the county would have to buy the site, or investors would, and neither scenario seems likely right now. So if the Nationals leave, it might mean the eventual departure of the Manatees franchise to elsewhere in Florida.
I’ve always felt that baseball teams should pay for their own facilities, but there seems to be an endless supply of municipalities willing to subsidize a multi-billion dollar industry for ego or pride. Many taxpayers think these facilities are paid by the same funds that pay for police and fire, but that’s simply not true. The typical scheme is the creation of a special enterprise fund that raises money from a local hotel tax, a slice of ticket sales and parking fees, perhaps state economic development funds. But regardless of the funding source, I wish more municipalities would tell these billionaires to stick it.
July 5 Manatees Photos
I shot photos and video during the Brevard County Manatees’ July 5 doubleheader with the Tampa Yankees. Below are samples of the photos; they’ll eventually show up in the SpaceCoastBaseball.com Photo Gallery.
Josh Prince and Matt Cline
Osprey nest atop a light pole behind left field.
Josh Prince dives back into first base.
Manager Bob Miscik and Josh Prince
Brock Kjeldgaard makes a throw from left field.
Hitting coach Dwayne Hosey
Pitching coach Fred Dabney
Manatees Come and Go
Nick Green was once a top pitching prospect in the Los Angeles Angels minor league system.
The minor league camps close today, meaning we should know within the next day or two who will be assigned to the Brevard County Manatees.
MLB.com reports that Nick Green will be assigned to Brevard as a closer. Green was once a top pitching prospect in the Angels’ minor league system, known for his “plus” changeup.
Some of you may know that I’ve followed the Angels’ minor leagues for many years, and run another site FutureAngels.com, so I’m very familiar with Nick.
Green was a full-time starter for Triple-A Salt Lake in 2008, posting a 5.32 ERA in 159 innings. Salt Lake is a high-elevation ballpark, as are several other parks in the PCL’s Pacific Conference, so most pitchers see their ERA suffer when they go to Salt Lake. He was claimed by the Brewers on waivers in February 2009, when the Angels tried to move him off the 40-man roster. A neck injury set him back last year, although he did manage to appear in seven games for Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville.
I filmed Green pitching for the Angels’ Double-A Arkansas affiliate in June 2007. Click here to watch the video. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.
I’m waiting to learn the fate of 2009 Manatees catcher Martin Maldonado. The Brewers kept him with the parent club to help with the pitching staff, but he was reassigned to minor league camp yesterday. Maldonado is another Angels alumnus.
The Brewers picked up another Angel farmhand last week. The Angels released catcher Ben Johnson, but Milwaukee promptly signed him and sent him to Triple-A Nashville. Johnson is on the Sounds’ opening day roster.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that 2009 Manatees second baseman Eric Farris will skip Double-A and begin 2010 with Triple-A Nashville.
According to this post on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel web site, 2009 Manatees’ second baseman Eric Farris has made the leap all the way to Triple-A.
Most of the 2009 Manatees top prospects seem to be going to Double-A Huntsville. The article reports that Mark Rogers, Amaury Rivas, Michael Bowman and Alex Periard will open 2010 with the Stars. It also says that Evan Anundsen will begin the year on the disabled list with a slight shoulder problem. Lee Haydel and Caleb Gindl also report to Huntsville.
I’ll post more on Manatees assignments as they become available. We should also have news to announce in the next day or two about SpaceCoastBaseball.com webcasting some of the Manatees games.
Build It or They Might Leave
Florida Today broke the news on March 30 that the Washington Nationals would tour City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Lee County.
The Nationals wouldn’t comment, but clearly Lee County officials viewed this as an opportunity to lure the major league team’s spring training and minor league operations away from Viera.
The Boston Red Sox currently occupy the facility, but are moving to a nearby complex in 2012.
Space Coast Stadium, the Nats’ current spring home, is owned by Brevard County and leased to the team. The Nationals sublease the facility to the Brevard County Manatees of the Florida State League, a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate independently owned by a local group.
Florida Today reported the next day that county officials were caught unaware of the Nationals’ interest in Fort Myers. “The Nationals are under contract to play at Space Coast Stadium in Viera through Dec. 31, 2017,” the paper reported.
The article quoted Kevin Reichard of Ballpark Digest as ranking Fort Myers inferior to Viera. The ballparks at both sites are about the same age, but the minor league complex in Fort Myers is two miles away while the Viera fields are adjacent to Space Coast Stadium.
The Fort Myers News-Press reported today on yesterday’s Nats tour of Fort Myers. The tour was described by a Lee County commissioner as “just looking” and emphasized that no negotiations are being held with the Nationals.
So what’s up?
Baseball organizations always keep an eye on what other teams are doing, as they might see an idea they like and incorporate it themselves.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Fort Myers is hardly state of the art, and it’s a turnoff to have practice fields so far away. Perhaps Lee County can build new practices adjacent to their facility; I’m not familiar with the complex.
The Nats’ lease of Space Coast Stadium runs through the end of 2017, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t try to find a way to break the lease, or simply buy their way out of the balance.
Major league organizations play hardball when it comes to spring training facility upgrades. They’ll play towns against each other, hoping to extort the best deal possible from taxpayers’ elected representatives.
The Chicago Cubs are the most recent example. The Cubs have been in Mesa, Arizona for 32 years, and HoHoKam Park for the last 14. But the Cubs have floated the idea of moving to Naples, Florida after their HoHoKam lease expires this year. Politicians trying to keep the team in Mesa have floated the idea of a Cubs Tax in which all patrons of Arizona spring training games would pay a fee on their tickets to pay for HoHoKam improvements.
Analysts have questioned whether the presence of major league organizations provides long-term financial benefits to a community more than other potential uses. A stadium doesn’t provide property tax revenue if it’s owned by the municipality, for example. Most jobs are temporary or part-time — ushers, vendors, and ticket-takers. Might a shopping mall or an industrial complex provide more jobs and revenue to a community in the long run? Possibly. But most politicians find it easier to promote the ego boost of big league ball with their town in the byline instead of a mall.
The Nationals could assuage local concerns here in Brevard County simply by explaining the reason for the Fort Myers tour. They’ve chosen to remain silent.
It could simply be no more than a machination to extort more taxpayer-funded improvements at the Space Coast Stadium complex, hoping to frighten Brevard County elected officials into thinking they’ll leave if they don’t get some shiny new toy. If Brevard says no, might they try to leave? Possibly.
I doubt many people in the Space Coast would miss the Nationals, but I do worry about what happens to the Manatees.
If the Nats leave, they would lease the stadium directly from Brevard County. With a capacity of 8,000, Space Coast Stadium is way too big for the Manatees. A park with a capacity of about 2,500 would better suit their needs.
I haven’t seen the numbers, so this is just my speculation, but if the Nats leave I have to wonder if Space Coast Stadium becomes too expensive for the County to keep and they demolish it to sell off the land. That would leave the Manatees homeless, unless the County builds them a new park elsewhere.
That could create a scenario where the Manatees’ franchise could simply leave town and move elsewhere in Florida.
Brevard County has a rich professional baseball history going back to the Cocoa Fliers in 1941. Cocoa Expo Stadium began life as Cocoa Colt Stadium in 1964, the spring training home for the Houston Astros (born Colt .45s). But the Astros left for Kissimmee in 1985, and if it wasn’t for the National League adding the Florida Marlins in 1993 we wouldn’t have either Space Coast Stadium or the Manatees, a new Florida State League franchise added as the Marlins’ Advanced Class-A affiliate.
Hopefully elected officials in Brevard County start thinking ahead about what they’ll do should the day come when the Nationals issue their threat to build a cutting-edge facility for them or else. My preference would be to see the County build a new park for the Manatees, perhaps financed by selling off the land where Space Coast Stadium currently stands. But we’re not at that point yet.
Pirates of the Florida State League
On November 10, 2009, the Pittsburgh Pirates purchased the Sarasota Reds franchise in the Florida State League and moved it north to Bradenton.
The Reds were no longer interested in Florida because they’ve moved their spring training/minor league complex to Arizona for 2010. The Lynchburg franchise in the Carolina League, which was the Pirates’ Advanced Class-A affiliate, will now be a Reds’ affiliate.
As more baseball organizations relocate from Florida to Arizona, it’s led some to question the continued viability of the Grapefruit League, the spring training circuit for teams based here in the Sunshine State. The Dodgers and Indians preceded the Reds in recent years, leaving fifteen clubs in Florida. Arizona’s advantage is that its fifteen clubs are all located around Phoenix, while Florida’s clubs are scattered about the state.
One rumor persists that the Chicago Cubs might relocate from Mesa, Arizona to Naples, Florida. This probably has more to do with the Cubs’ lease on Hohokam Stadium, which allows them to opt out in 2010. Major league organizations often seek “opt out” clauses in long-term leases as a means of squeezing their municipal landlords for improvements, financed (of course) by the taxpayers. Hohokam is rather antiquated by modern major league baseball complex standards. It has only two practice fields, limited parking and little room for expansion. The minor league complex is about three blocks south at Fitch Park. These days, clubs prefer an integrated complex to seamlessly move players from one facility to another. Naples, presumably, would be a clean slate.
Most Florida State League clubs operate out of their parent club’s spring training complex. The twelve FSL teams and their parent clubs are (those in the parent club’s park are in bold):
|Bradenton Marauders||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Brevard County Manatees||Milwaukee Brewers|
|Charlotte Stone Crabs||Tampa Bay Rays|
|Clearwater Threshers||Philadelphia Phillies|
|Daytona Cubs||Chicago Cubs|
|Dunedin Blue Jays||Toronto Blue Jays|
|Ft. Myers Miracle||Minnesota Twins|
|Jupiter Hammerheads||Florida Marlins|
|Lakeland Flying Tigers||Detroit Tigers|
|Palm Beach Cardinals||St. Louis Cardinals|
|St. Lucie Mets||New York Mets|
|Tampa Yankees||New York Yankees|
If the Chicago Cubs move to Naples, it creates a scenario where they might want to move their FSL affiliation to Naples too. To do that, they’d have to acquire an FSL franchise. The Pirates bought Sarasota from the Reds and moved it to Bradenton, but none of the other organizations based in their own complex seem inclined any time soon to leave as Cincinnati did.
That would leave the two teams not playing in their parent club’s park — the Daytona Cubs and the Brevard County Manatees.
The straightforward solution is to move the Daytona franchise to Naples, but Daytona is one of the historic franchises in the league. Daytona has been in and out of the FSL since 1920. Since 1993, it’s been a Cubs affiliate. Jackie Robinson Ballpark is historic because of its namesake; according to their web site, “The park was renamed Jackie Robinson Ballpark in 1989 as the stadium served as host to the first racially integrated game in baseball history,” although that’s not quite true as their were many semi-pro, independent and barnstorming games in the early 20th Century that were more or less integrated. Daytona Beach was the first Florida town to permit Robinson to play with his white Dodgers teammates, during 1946 spring training.
In any case, should the Daytona franchise’s owner choose not to sell, that leaves only the Manatees. The Brevard franchise could relocate to Naples, then switch affiliations to the Cubs. An affiliation switch couldn’t happen, though, until the Manatees’ Player Development Contract (PDC) with Milwaukee expires after the 2010 season.
Daytona drew an average 2,425 fans per game in 2009, while Brevard drew only 1,183. That’s a slight improvement from 1,035 in 2008, but it’s still down significantly from 2,151, the last year the Marlins were in town before swapping with Montreal in Jupiter. The best average attendance since then was 1,822 in 2004, the year before the Expos left and the Brewers replaced them.
The Manatees sublease Space Coast Stadium from the Washington Nationals, formerly the Expos. They changed their Advanced Class-A affiliation to Potomac in the Carolina League in 2005 when the Expos moved to D.C., so there’s no chance the Nats would put an FSL team in Brevard if the Manatees leave.
Just speculating, but another scenario might be the transfer of two franchises to the FSL from the California League. Minor League Baseball considered transferring two Cal League franchises, Bakersfield and High Desert, to the Carolina League after the 2008 season. That idea fell through, apparently because new ballparks weren’t available.
If Daytona or Brevard moved to Naples, that franchise could be replaced by one from the Cal League, although to keep schedules balanced in both leagues two franchises would have to move to Florida. East Coast teams such as the Rays and Red Sox had to play in the Cal League in recent years because no Florida or Carolina option was available.
Should the Cubs move to Naples, it could trigger a cascade of events in the Florida State League perhaps unanticipated so far by the public. But it would reverse the slow migration west of major league clubs heading for Arizona.
UPDATE January 10, 2010 — Click here to read an article on MLB.com about the history and movement between the Grapefruit League and Cactus League.
The article describes the Reds’ new start-of-the-art complex in Goodyear:
The Reds’ $23 million complex features six full practice fields plus two half-fields for infield work, and space for agility drills. There are multiple bullpens and covered batting cages. The facility also features a 43,000 square foot, two-story building for offices, clubhouses and rehabilitation.
Contrast that with what I wrote above about the Cubs’ limited facility in Mesa, and you can understand why they’re looking around.
Rule 5 Results
The 2009 Rule 5 draft took about a half hour Thursday.
No Manatees were claimed by other organizations. The Brewers claimed LHP Chuck Lofgren from the Indians in the major league phase, but you won’t see him playing for the Manatees as he has to be on the Brewers’ parent club roster all of 2010 or else he must be offered back to Cleveland.
The Nationals lost some players and claimed some players.
In the major league phase, the Nats lost RHP reliever Zech Zinicola to the Blue Jays. Zinicola split 2009 between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse.
The Nationals had the #1 pick overall in the major league phase, but bargained that away earlier in the week when they acquired reliever Brian Bruney from the Yankees. The Yankees used the Nats’ pick to select Dodgers’ Triple-A outfielder Jamie Hoffman.
In the Triple-A phase, the Blue Jays selected RHP Ruben de la Rosa, who pitched for the Nationals’ 2009 Gulf Coast League team in Viera. The Mariners claimed RHP Terry Engles, who split the year between Hagerstown and Potomac. He pitched for the GCL Nats in 2005. The Nationals claimed Arismendy Mota from the White Sox; he’s pitched only in Chicago’s Dominican academy, so you might see him at Viera in 2010 although he turns 23 in February.
In the second round of the Triple-A phase, DC claimed 27-year old lefty reliever Mike Wlodarczyk from Tampa Bay Rays. He had a 5.40 ERA in 47 games with Double-A Montgomery in 2009. In the third round, the Nats selected CF Nick Moresi from the Astros. He hit .208 for Double-A Corpus Christi this year.
In the Double-A phase, the Mets selected RHP Johan Figuereo from the Nationals. Figuereo was on the Vermont roster the last two years; in 2007 he pitched one inning for Viera in the GCL.
As we discussed on December 9, most Rule 5 picks amount to nothing, although once in a while a player will blossom with another organization.
Manatees to the Rescue
In the wake of the FWBL leaving ticket holders and advertisers holding the proverbial bag, the Brevard County Manatees have come to the rescue.
Manatees General Manager Kyle Smith issued this press release yesterday:
Manatees Announce “For the Love of the Game” Promotion
Viera, FL – The Brevard County Manatees, advanced-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, announced Monday a special “For the Love of the Game” offer.
While the Manatees share your disappointment with the suspension of the Surge’s inaugural season, we want to assure that you can still see baseball right here on the Space Coast! Simply bring any unused Surge tickets for games dated November 27 and later to the Space Coast Stadium box office, and we’ll give you an equal amount of tickets good for any 2010 Manatees’ home game (excludes FSL All-Star Game)!
“We want to make sure that no baseball fan in Brevard is left out in the cold,” offered Kyle Smith, Manatees’ general manager. “By opening our doors to Surge ticket holders and sponsors, we hope to ease the blow of a shortened season.”
FWBL and Surge corporate sponsors are also invited to contact the Manatees to discuss sponsorship opportunities at exclusive discounted rates.
Opening Night for Manatees is April 8th at Space Coast Stadium. More information on the Brevard County Manatees is available at www.manateesbaseball.com or by phone at (321) 633-9200.
A very wise business decision by the Manatees. They might pick up some customers and advertisers they didn’t have before, and they show how a legitimate baseball business is run.
Manatees Hitting Coach Corey Hart Offers Baseball Lessons
Corey Hart (Photo credit: Brevard County Manatees)
Brevard County Manatees hitting coach Corey Hart is offering baseball lessons this winter taught at Space Coast Stadium. Click Here for Corey’s brochure.
To contact Corey, e-mail him at email@example.com.
And in case you’re wondering, Corey is not the Milwaukee Brewers outfielder by the same name, although the Manatees are a Brewers affiliate and Corey is a Brewers minor league coach.