Mark Lerner, principal owner of the Washington Nationals, took some time before Saturday afternoon’s rainout to discuss the future spring training site of the Nationals—The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches—with my graduate school class from The George Washington University.
— Mark Hyman (@GWsportsprof) March 19, 2016
— Healey Sutton (@helix1027) March 20, 2016
Lerner described two primary reasons that factored into the team’s decision to move from Space Coast Stadium, the team’s spring training home since 2003, to West Palm Beach.
“The number one thing is geography,” Lerner said. “There is a much denser population around West Palm Beach.”
The amount of time that players and fans spend traveling to games can be very long. The closest road trip the Nationals make during the Grapefruit League season is a one hour trip to Osceola County Stadium to play the Houston Astros. The next closest facility is Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie where the Nationals travel to play the New York Mets. That facility is a one hour and ten minute drive from Space Coast Stadium.
The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, which will be shared with the Astros, will strategically place the Nationals in a region where less travel is required. Both teams will be just 15 minutes away from the spring training facilities of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, who play in Jupiter, and 45 minutes away from Tradition Field.
Attendance at Nationals home games, and the aforementioned away games, will surely increase as a result of the 120 mile move south to a county with a larger population. Palm Beach County, with its estimated population 1.372 million people, has more than twice the amount of residents as Brevard County. Fans who want to see the Nationals play will, therefore, have easier time following the team around the region.
Lerner also described how the size of the clubhouse in Viera was another motivation behind the decision to let the Space Coast Stadium lease expire.
Bob Miller, assistant general manager and vice president of the Nationals, added that the clubhouse has space for just one treadmill and he emphasized that a much larger locker room is needed to accommodate the players and the larger clubhouse staff. Miller also said that the new clubhouse will accommodate the team’s nutrition and health programs.
It will have a kitchen, dining area and a private chef who will prepare meals for the players. This area will certainly be a step up from outdoor picnic tables, Sterno candles and catered meals.
Fans also have a lot to look forward to for spring training 2017. The new facility was designed by HKS architects–the same architects who designed the state-of-the-art spring training facility for the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies. It will have 6,400 fixed seats plus a berm in the outfield. Lerner estimated it can accommodate as many as 10,000 people.
“We are not afraid of spending money on the ballpark,” Lerner said.
The ballpark will have clear sight lines, improved berm seating, and distinct areas for fans to get autographs.
“My number one goal was to give fans a Nationals experience,” Lerner said. “There is nothing like spring training baseball.”