Washington baseball fans likely won’t have to wait long for their new team to have a showdown with the Baltimore Orioles.
Though the spring training schedule won’t be completed for several months, the Orioles have played the Montreal Expos regularly in exhibition games, and that arrangement probably will continue because both teams train on Florida’s east coast.
Last spring the Expos played the Orioles four times, including split-squad games, with two games at the Orioles’ home in Fort Lauderdale and two at the Expos’ training complex in Viera, near Melbourne.
Because of travel times and costs, teams on the state’s east coast often have played the Orioles. The list includes the Expos, Florida Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets.
Washington fans will have to settle for exhibition games against the Orioles as far as next season is concerned. According to the tentative schedule released for the Expos, Washington will face American League West teams in interleague play.
All this, of course, depends on the club returning to Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., for spring training 2005 — a likely proposition, according to Andy Dunn, the Expos’ vice president of Brevard County operations.
“It is my understanding that we will continue spring training here,” Dunn said.
Meanwhile, Brevard County officials are counting on the club returning to Viera.
“I have been somewhat assured by Major League Baseball that they intend to return here,” said Tom Jenkins, Brevard County government manager. “We have had a great working relationship with Expos management. Our anticipation is that the Expos will continue to train here.”
Jenkins said he received a letter to that effect last spring from Bob DuPuy, MLB’s chief operating officer. DuPuy could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Before the Expos were sold to the 29 existing major league owners, they shared a state-of-the-art spring training complex with the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla., close to West Palm Beach. But when Jeffrey Loria bought the Marlins, he wanted the former Expos site in Jupiter for his new team. That forced the Expos north to the Marlins’ isolated location near Melbourne with a lease that runs through 2017.
“Of all the choices for the Expos to relocate, we were hopeful it would come to the D.C.-Virginia area because we see that as a good connection for us,” he said. “We were pleased with the choice.”
Melbourne is about 900 miles from Washington but 155 miles closer than the Orioles’ spring training base in Fort Lauderdale.
The Viera complex is relatively new, built in 1993. Space Coast Stadium — named for its location on Florida’s Space Coast, close to the Kennedy Space Center — seats about 8,100, and the major league complex has five additional fields, plus a four-field minor league facility next door. Having the minor leaguers close by is a luxury the Orioles do not have, with their farmhands training across the state in Sarasota.
“We have been very fortunate to have the entire organization here in close proximity,” Dunn said.
The history — and future — of the spring training facility mirrors the complicated deal that resulted in baseball owning the Expos. Though John Henry sold the Marlins to Loria, Henry still owns the minor league complex and the minor league club that plays there, the Class A Brevard County Manatees. The Manatees were an Expos affiliate until two weeks ago, when they were replaced by the Potomac Cannons in Prince William County, Va., in anticipation of the Expos moving to Washington.
Jenkins said when the sale of the Expos is completed, the new owners will assume ownership of the minor league complex.
The Manatees — now a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate — are still owned by Henry and would be included in the deal.
“Now with the minor league affiliation moving to Virginia, it becomes a little more uncertain who will own the minor league team,” Jenkins said. “But they would not have any difficulty in selling the minor league team. It is a very successful franchise.”