A report from the Houston Chronicle indicates that the Houston Astros are close to finalizing a deal to relocate their spring training home from Kissimmee to a brand new stadium in Palm Beach Gardens. It is believed that the Toronto Blue Jays are going to move in as well, in 2016 or 2017.
Earlier this spring, the story came out that the Blue Jays were looking for a new home because of the dated and inadequate facility they currently occupy in Dunedin. Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, the spring training home of the Blue Jays, feels antiquated compared to the newer facilities in the Grapefruit League like the Orioles' Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. There aren't enough bathrooms, the souvenir shop is tiny, there isn't room for a bar or extra concession stands. Another problem is that there really isn't much to do around that area.
On top of that, the minor league training complex is not on the same site, requiring front office executives, coaches, and players to trek back and forth across town. Paul Beeston was quoted in the above article saying that Dunedin "[is] not an ideal situation from the player-development perspective, with the separate complexes."
An additional benefit to moving from the Gulf Coast of Florida is that the other four AL East clubs all play on that side of the state in order to better "hide" pitchers. Moving to Palm Beach Gardens would put the Blue Jays near Port St. Lucie where the Mets play, and Jupiter, where the Cardinals and Marlins share a home.
Back in April, a lobbying group representing the Blue Jays, Astros, and the City of Palm Beach Gardens asked the State of Florida to grant $50 million in sales tax rebates over 37-and-a-half years to build a new stadium, with the municipal government matching dollar-for-dollar. That's $100 million dollars to fund a stadium--it shows what extent the Florida state government is ready go to in order to prevent teams from moving to the Cactus League in Arizona. The Astros' lease in Kissimmee ends in 2016, and the Blue Jays' lease in Dunedin ends a year later.
Today, Astros owner Jim Crane (who has been heading the effort) told the Chronicle that the State has approved the money and that the only missing part is the final city approval. The Chronicle wrote that, "barring an unforeseen set back, the Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays will share a facility in Palm Beach Gardens." I don't know whether the Chronicle had heard anything specific about the Blue Jays' involvement, or if the reporter was just speculating as the Blue Jays were still "open to options" as of April this year. In late May, an Astros attorney told the Tampa Bay Times that his club is "interested in the Blue Jays joining us," but "that'll be up to the Blue Jays to decide," sounding like the Blue Jays had not committed as of that time. Bob Elliott also tweeted about it in early June, and his choice of words implied that it is the Astros, and not he Blue Jays, who are pushing the partnership.
Houston Astros figure their spring partner at Palm Beach Gardens in '17 will be the Blue Jays. Complex 4 miles from Jupiter (Marlins Cards)— bob elliott (@elliottbaseball) June 5, 2013
Even if the Blue Jays don't choose to move in with the Astros, they might not remain in Dunedin, though, as the Times reported that Paul Beeston hadn't even bothered to return emails and phone calls from Dunedin mayor Dave Eggers--doesn't that sound like a relationship that is close to a breakup to you?
Although the move would be devastating to Dunedin's local economy, and break a long-standing relationship that started in 1977, it is past time for the Blue Jays to head for greener pastures, be it in Palm Beach Gardens or elsewhere in Florida. West Palm Beach, a town close to Palm Beach Gardens, had previously welcomed Canadians as they hosted the shared spring training home of the Montreal Expos and the Atlanta Braves.
The Toronto Star's Brendan Kennedy spoke with Blue Jays president Paul Beeston this morning to follow up on the Chronicle's report. As suspected, Beeston said that that, while moving with the Astros to Palm Beach Gardens would be "one of the options," there are other ones they are exploring prior to the expiration of the lease in Dunedin. He added "at such time that we have something to announce, we'll announce it."