With the future of the Washington Nationals spring training in limbo, baseball fans from near and far flocked to Space Coast Stadium last night for one last game. The stands were almost full in spite of the clouds threatening to open right over the stadium. Not until lightening streaked across the sky, did fans give up and then only retreated below to shelter. A few less-hardy souls ran to their cars and left but most of the crowd believed the weather apps and their prediction that the storms would pass through quickly.
Down below, those seeking shelter from the elements were evenly divided with half waiting in line for food or drink, and half using their phone apps to see what the weather radar indicated. Finally, after about 30 minutes, the rain stopped and the mopping up began. Seats were wiped down, a few players began tossing balls, and fans began filtering back in.
This writer has been to larger stadiums ( Fenway is a favorite.) but there is something cozy about minor league games in smaller venues. Other than one young man who heckled the Cubs pitcher until everyone told him to be quiet, last night was all about fun. The crowd seemed to gather front and center and the general mood was positive. The mascots were more active than usual and even the Manatee players seemed to kid and tease each other, especially after they ran the score up in their favor.
One especially touching moment came when a little girl, recently declared in remission after battling a rare and deadly eye cancer, was brought out to ' run the bases '. Every player and support staff from both teams lined up to high-five (or low-five, if you will) the tiny sprinter. There is a photo of her finishing her run in the slide show.
When the game was over, no-one seemed to be in a hurry to leave, including the teams. They signed autographs, shook hands, and posed for pictures. The mascots did likewise. And then there were the fireworks. They were magnificent and topped off the evening perfectly.
Future of Spring Training in limbo
On August 23, after Kissimmee turned down a proposal to build a new baseball facility for the Washington Nationals, Brevard County Commissioners, along with county Manager Howard Tipton announced plans proposing that the county, along with the help of matching state funds, refinance Space Coast Stadium to help pay for $29 million in upgrades to the facility to pacify the Nationals. The distance needed to travel to other spring training facilities is the main reason why the Nationals say they want to relocate. The Nationals have told Brevard County that they are planning to leave the area possibly before their current lease agreement runs out in 2017. Several avenues have been explored to prevent that but, to date, no firm decision has been reached.
In 2012, the Brewers finalized a two-year extension of their player development contract with the Class A Brevard County Manatees. The new deal with the Manatees runs through 2014. That team plays home games at Space Coast Stadium, and has been a Brewers' summer affiliate since 2005. They are affiliated with the Brewers but privately owned by an Orlando surgeon. While major league baseball makes up it's mind about spring training, local baseball fans will be ready when the Manatees return next summer.