The Washington Times - March 20, 2011, 01:45PM

VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals are actively exploring their opportunities to move the team’s spring training home out of Viera, Fla., and have toured sites in both the west coast of Florida and Arizona, principal owner Mark Lerner told the Washington Post on Sunday morning.

Lerner spoke strongly about the Nationals desire to move to a spring training base that would create an easier travel schedule than the one they currently possess being one of only four teams left on Florida’s east coast.

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“We do have a problem here,” Lerner told the Post. “Viera has been wonderful as a town. Viera government has been wonderful. Our problem is basically logistics. Our closest game is 120-miles round trip. We cannot do that. It’s tiring. It messes up our practice schedule. It’s not good for the organization.

“We have no choice but to look at what our options are. We’re going to continue to do that in both states. Hopefully, we’ll be successful firming something up with Florida. If not, we will not hesitate to go to Arizona if necessary.”

The Nationals have a lease with Brevard County for their current facility through 2017 but will only be paying back a loan to the county for Space Coast Stadium until March of 2013 — a price of $765,000 per year. If they choose to leave Viera after 2013 but before 2017, the county has told them they’d determine the penalty they would need to pay at that time.

The only teams left on Florida’s east coast, besides Washington, are the St. Louis Cardinals and the Florida Marlins, which share Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. — a two-hour one-way drive for the Nationals — and the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, a 150-mile round trip. According to the Post, the Nationals have toured City of Palms Park in Fort Myers where the Red Sox currently train. It will be vacant next year when Boston moves into a newly-built facility.

Lerner told the Post that building their own stadium would be preferable for the Nationals as well.

“If we build a new complex, then we can get something we absolutely want, and it’s done the right way,” Lerner said. “That would be ideal. Whether that can happen or not, I don’t know. There aren’t many complexes that are opening up that are a good enough complex already that you’re not going to put tens of millions of dollars into it to get it the right way. We are working with an architect to view the basis of a footprint and have a program scheduled for what we would want, so no matter where we go, we’ve done that homework and can accelerate the process at the right time. We still have a lot more homework to be done.”

Moving the entire operation to Arizona is also a possibility, as Lerner said, though it would be considerably farther for fans from D.C. hoping to travel to see the team.

Lerner also told the Post that the Nationals would remain in Viera for the next few years “for sure.”