Nationals prinicpal owner Mark Lerner reiterated the team’s desire to improve their spring training travel situation by exploring venues on both the west coast of Florida and in Arizona but did say the team would be in Viera through 2013.
“We have to do something different than what we have now,” Lerner said Wednesday. “It’s brutal on the team to have to do these kind of miles on every trip. It’s way too much… We’ll be in Viera at least through 2013. Certainly next few years we’ll absolutely be in Viera. We couldn’t move any sooner.”
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.
“It’s a tough situation,” Lerner said. “Viera’s been very good to us. The fans are wonderful there, the players, everybody loves the town, but our problem it the distance to travel to play other teams. When the closest team you traveling to is a 110 mile round trip, it’s just too much. We’ve got to get closer to where other teams are. Plus you’re playing other NL East teams all the time. We don’t want to do that, it’s not smart.”
The Nationals have toured spring training sites on Florida’s west coast, including City of Palms Park in Ft. Myers, as the Washington Post reported on March 20, and would not rule out moving the team’s facility to Arizona. While moving into a vacated facility is a possibility, the Nationals would prefer to build something of their own, much like the Red Sox will have in Ft. Myers when they move into their new stadium next spring.
— Lerner also said that while Wednesday’s inclement weather lessened fan turnout at the team’s NatsFest, he expects to have the event on the eve of the regular season again next year — as opposed to in the offseason.
“I like the idea of trying to do this on the day before the season,” Lerner said. “In the winter, you don’t know (which players) you’re going to get. If we had good weather, I think this would have been a good crowd.”