Dazzling spring facility set to welcome Astros

Pitchers and catchers to report for duty Tuesday

Dazzling spring facility set to welcome Astros

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros senior vice president for business operations Marcel Braithwaite was in a construction trailer Thursday night when he noticed that the large orange star with an "H" in front of it sitting in front of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches was suddenly lit up.

The Astros' symbol was reflecting on a small lake in front of the facility and served as a glowing indication the team's sparkling new Spring Training facility was just about ready. The Astros, who will share a stadium on the site with the Nationals, got a certificate of occupancy Monday as a couple of players and dozens of construction workers both put in their work in the afternoon sun.

"It's real," Braithwaite said when he saw the Astros' logo aglow. "This is home."

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Braithwaite guided three members of the media, including MLB.com, on a 90-minute tour Monday of the Astros' side of the facility, which sits beyond left field of a stadium that is still under construction. Finishing touches are being put on the Astros' spring digs, but the back fields are ready. Houston pitchers Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel even threw on a back field pitching mound last week.

Houston's pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on Tuesday, and the team will hit the field Wednesday following physicals for the first workout. The players will be greeted by a massive clubhouse that has 10 70-inch televisions (with the Astros' logo on the ceiling), as well as spacious workout facilities, cafeteria, large meeting areas from players, coaches and the front office.

Every batting cage and bullpen has been wired for "video coaching," Braithwaite said, and each of the TVs in the complex has its own IP address so the team can push content individually to each screen.

"It's fantastic," Braithwaite said. "When people started moving in, everybody's work and the people who worked on this for long hours, it's starting to come together. It's nice to see it come alive."

Braithwaite took reporters past the covered batting cage, a set of pitcher's mounds that will be bustling with activity soon, a turf agility field and a pair of Major League practice fields, one of which has the same dimensions as Minute Maid Park.

There are also four Minor League fields, all of which can be viewed from a single watch tower behind home plate of each field, a structure that's still under construction. The Minor League players have their own clubhouse and meeting areas. The Minor League clubhouse features 95 lockers on each side, with a large wet area in the middle.

Everything is state of the art, even as workers in hard hats work to add the final details.

"This facility, it's about the ownership," Braithwaite said. "[Owner] Jim [Crane] believes in doing it first class and making sure we can be competitive for a long time with the right tools."

All the seats are in place in the 6,400-seat stadium, but the suite areas and concessions areas are still under construction. The Astros and Nationals will play the first game in the stadium on Feb. 28, and Braithwaite says the stadium will be ready.

"Kissimmee treated us well," Braithwaite said of the team's former spring home. "Great people, great facility. No complaints. The opportunity, though, to design something with the baseball operations people actually at the table ... that allows you to be even more competitive. It's been a great journey. We'll continue to personalize it. There's a lot of pride when that star goes up on the front."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.