- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros are on the way to sharing a new spring training site.

A groundbreaking ceremony, attended by commissioner Rob Manfred, was held on Monday for the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, which will be the home of the two teams beginning in 2017.

When the $144 million complex opens, it will end an 18-year absence of spring training baseball in West Palm Beach. The Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos left the area in 1997.

The Nationals currently train in Viera, more than an hour from any other team. The Astros are now at a site in the Kissimmee region.

“One of goals is to make sure as many people as possible have an opportunity to enjoy spring training,” Manfred said. “It’s such a great part of our year and I think two additional teams here ensures that we have a sufficient body of teams in southeast Florida.

“I think these are two really appealing teams. They’ll draw well and be great competition to the existing teams in the area,” he said.

The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals share Roger Dean Stadium, the spring training facility located just north of West Palm Beach in Jupiter. With the New York Mets training in nearby Port St. Lucie, five teams will be within a 50-mile radius.

“The last thing players want to do during spring training is go on long bus rides,” Manfred said. “Having a body of teams here in southeastern Florida all within an hour of each other makes spring training great not only for these two new teams, but also the existing teams in the area.”

Manfred, who owns a home about two miles from the property, raved about the location choice.

“The renderings are absolutely fantastic. I think the location is great. The ingress/egress is going to be good. It couldn’t be a better site for the two teams,” he said.

Joining Manfred for the ceremony were city and county officials, along with team representatives that included Nationals owner Mark Lerner and Astros owner Jim Crane.

Crane, who also owns the Floridian National Golf Club in nearby Palm City, touched on the various attractions the West Palm Beach area offers.

“We’re very proud to be here,” Crane said. “This is a big draw down here. You got great boating, you got great fishing, you got great beaches. With all the spring training teams so close, [people] will be able to go to more games. I think we’ll draw more down here, I really do.”

Led by Astros general counsel Giles Kibby, negotiations for the location started in 2012. After a long and arduous process, Crane is happy to be one day closer to the stadium opening.

“It’s going to be a big draw for the community and a great park for the kids,” Crane said. “Year-round, they can play football, soccer and baseball here. It’s going to be great for the families.”

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