Mark Lerner Q&A: Nationals owner talks payroll, spring training site and more

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VIERA, Fla. — Wearing one of his team’s new three-paneled batting practice caps and a red pullover, principal owner Mark Lerner strolled the backfields at the Washington Nationals’ spring training complex Thursday morning and soaked in the scene.

Enjoying his first full day down from Washington, Lerner watched live batting practice, chatted with a few of his players, and spent time with several front office executives.

He also took a few minutes to answer a range of questions about the team. Over the course of a roughly 10-minute session, Lerner chatted about everything Nationals — including getting over Game 5, the organization’s spring training venue situation, ticket sales, payroll, construction around the ballpark and the prospect of luring an All-Star Game.

Does arriving at spring training help put the team’s loss in Game 5 of the National League Division Series that much further back in your mind?

“I don’t know if you’ll ever forget that. I think it was so unexpected for so many of us that we got that far, it was a special moment. I think these guys have grown from it, I think they’ve put it behind them — and that’s the most important people it’s behind — but it was a great experience and we couldn’t be in a better position than we are right now. God willing, everybody stays healthy, and we’re talking next year about how much further we went this year.

“I was very excited about coming down. … It may be the most exciting team in baseball. We’ve come a long ways in four years.”

Is moving to a new spring training facility by 2014 still a possibility?

“We’ve still got a number of options and we continue to negotiate with the different cities and we’ll see what happens. I would doubt it. Just with the timing, it would just too tight. I would think next year we’ll still be in Viera. You just never know what’s going to happen, though.

Is it frustrating that it’s taken so long to figure out a situation that will work well for you?

“Yeah, the timing was a little bad with the economy and everything else. Florida has their economic troubles. But it’s something we have to fix. We can’t continue to drive 100-plus miles to our closest game — and we will get it fixed. It’s just dedication to get the right kind of situation for us. It’ll happen.”

Is there any possibility of working something out to stay in Brevard County long-term?

“We have an obligation here. We’re honoring it, but there’s nothing I can do and nothing they can do about fixing the geography problem, unfortunately. We’ve said many times: They’ve been great hosts to us and we love the people in the area, but it’s just something that we can’t fix, most likely, without moving.”

How different will the area around Nationals Park look this year?

“A lot is going on over at the Yards. I don’t know how much of it’s going to be ready for Opening Day, but it’s starting to happen again. The economy is getting there. A lot of buildings that I thought would start construction there in the last 12 months didn’t, like the ones right outside the ballpark. If you’re coming out the center field gate, I thought the ones on the left, one of them would start and they haven’t yet. There’s still issues out there, getting financing and other things that we deal with day-to-day, but I can’t wait for it all to start blossoming again. I think it’s going to be one of the great neighborhoods in town one day.”

Do you think that slow development is hindering your chances of getting an All-Star Game?

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