They’re outta here

Nationals, Astros break ground on new spring training facility in West Palm Beach


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The Washington Nationals will play its final spring training schedule at Space Coast Stadium in Viera in 2016. Photo by Mike Gaffey

With symbolic shovelfuls of dirt, the Washington Nationals buried any fading hopes that the Major League Baseball team might remain at Space Coast Stadium for spring training.  

Nationals owner Mark Lerner and general manager Mike Rizzo joined executives of the Houston Astros, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and local government officials in a ceremonial groundbreaking Nov. 9 for The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, a $144 million facility in West Palm Beach that will be spring training home to the Nationals and Astros starting in 2017.

Washington will play its final spring training schedule in Viera in 2016. The Nationals had played preseason ball in Viera since 2003, when the team was the Montreal Expos. After the 2016 season, Houston will move from its spring training facilities in Kissimmee.

The teams will play in a new 6,500-seat stadium that will be part of a 160-acre complex between Haverhill Road and Military Trail near Interstate 95 and 45th Street in West Palm Beach. Both teams will have their own practice fields and training facilities at the complex, which is scheduled to be completed by January 2017, according to MLB.com.

The Nationals and Astros will now be closer to three other squads: the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter, and the New York Mets, who train in Port St. Lucie.

 Viera’s remoteness required the Nationals to take long bus trips to play other teams.

“It’s clear that you need a certain number of teams, kind of a critical mass, in order to have spring training in this part of Florida,” Manfred told MLB.com. “I give (Astros owner) Jim Crane and Mark Lerner a ton of credit for finding a location, getting the project done and ensuring the future of spring training baseball in Southeast Florida.”

The Nationals’ move leaves Brevard County without a MLB team here in spring for the first time since 1992. The 8,100-seat Space Coast Stadium was built for the Marlins, who played their first preseason in Viera in 1994 after training at Cocoa Expo in 1993.

In 2002, the Marlins and Montreal Expos switched spring training sites. The Expos trained in Viera in 2003 and 2004 before becoming the Nationals in 2005.

Before the Marlins arrived, Cocoa Expo hosted the expansion Houston Colt 45’s for the team’s first spring training in 1964. The team returned as the Houston Astros in 1965 and trained in Cocoa until 1984, when the Astros moved to Kissimmee.

Anticipating that the Nationals would move, Brevard County officials in August reached a 20-year lease agreement with the United States Specialty Sports Association to move its headquarters from Kissimmee to Space Coast Stadium after the MLB team leaves.

The nonprofit amateur sports organization plans to host 175 days of youth sporting events a year at the stadium and nearby fields along Stadium Parkway. The USSSA presents events in a dozen amateur sports, including baseball, fast- and slow-pitch softball and basketball.

The lease agreement leaves in question the future of the Brevard County Manatees, a Class A Florida State League affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers and a stadium tenant since 1994.

The Manatees already have discussed leaving Viera after the Nationals depart. Plans to move the team to Rollins College in Winter Park fell through in 2014, and Melbourne commissioners killed a plan earlier this year to build a smaller stadium in downtown Melbourne. The team also has approached Palm Bay about the possibility of erecting a stadium at U.S. 1 and Port Malabar Boulevard. 

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