WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Commissioner Rob Manfred joined dignitaries from the Astros and Nationals, as well as local government officials, at Monday's ceremonial groundbreaking for a Spring Training facility that will be shared by both teams.
Manfred joined Astros owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow, Nationals principal owner Mark D. Lerner and general manager Mike Rizzo and others in symbolically shoveling dirt under a tent on the 160-acre site to signify the start of the project.
The $144 million project will open in 2017 as The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, making the area the Spring Training home of five teams. The Marlins and Cardinals share a facility in Jupiter, which is about 20 miles north of West Palm Beach, and the Mets are in Port St. Lucie, which is about 30 miles north of Jupiter.
"One of our goals is to make sure that as many people as possible have an opportunity to enjoy Spring Training," said Manfred, who added that he has a house near the site. "It's such a great part of our year, and I think two additional teams here ensure we have a sufficient body of teams in southeast Florida to keep it going."
The facility, located between Haverhill Road and Military Trail near the intersection of I-95 and 45th St., will be completed in January 2017. Remediation work has already begun on the site. Both the Nats and Astros will have their own practice fields and training facilities, and the clubs will share a 6,500-seat stadium that will also have seating available on outfield berms.
"Getting a new Spring Training facility was high on our list of priorities," Crane said. "A lot of hard work went into getting this done. We appreciate the great support we've received from the county and the governor. We will have a first-class facility that will be great for our players and will have a great impact on this neighborhood."
The Nationals' Spring Training home has been in Viera since 2003, when the team was still the Montreal Expos, but the Nats currently aren't close to any other teams and have long been in need of a facilities upgrade.
"It's an exciting day," Lerner said. "I've looked forward to it for a long time. … The Ballpark at the Palm Beaches will be a first class, state-of-the-art Spring Training facility. HKS architects have done an outstanding job capturing the essence of Palm Beach County and West Palm Beach with the design and style of the complex. Both teams are committing our full resources to make this facility the best in Major League Baseball."
The Astros have held Spring Training in Kissimmee since 1985, but the club wanted to find a site closer to larger hotels and upscale restaurants. Houston's final spring camp in Osceola County Stadium will be in 2016. Like the Nationals, the Astros often had to travel long distances to play other teams in the spring.
"When we started, we had a lot of things we wanted to fix, starting with the baseball team," said Crane, who bought the Astros in 2011. "This was high on the list, to get a better location for Spring Training. Our facilities weren't as good as the other teams. This will give us a state-of-the-art facility and the players won't have to travel as much and will be closer than other teams."