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Blue Jays' flirtation with east coast on spring training stadium appears dead

DUNEDIN — Are the Toronto Blue Jays staying in Dunedin or leaving? It apparently depends on whom — or when — you ask.

On Monday the Palm Beach Post reported that the Jays called Palm Beach County officials and said they were no longer interested in a joint-use stadium with the Houston Astros on Florida's east coast because the club had decided to stay in Dunedin.

"Toronto is no longer a player in this anymore," Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche said. He is leading that county's search for a new stadium site after community opposition caused proposed plans for an Astros-Jays complex in Palm Beach Gardens to fall apart.

On Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle also quoted Valeche. But he said only that the Jays had stated their disinterest in a stadium there.

Regarding the team's relationship with Dunedin, Valeche told the paper he is under the impression that the team is negotiating to remain in Dunedin, which has been the Blue Jays' spring training home since the club was created in 1977.

"I'm not part or privy to the negotiations or anything, but I think that's probably going on," the Chronicle story quoted Valeche as saying.

Jays officials didn't respond to a Tampa Bay Times request to confirm or deny the media reports.

However, a local consultant for the Blue Jays said Palm Beach County has "no right to speak for us."

The consultant, Ken Carson, said Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos was clear on Friday when he told the Times that the team is open to staying if spring training facility upgrades Dunedin has tentatively proposed can be accomplished.

However, the team might still leave if someone else approached them with a better opportunity, Anthopoulos said.

He said the nearly 4-mile distance between Dunedin's ballpark and its Englebert spring training complex prompted the team to explore partnering with the Astros on a new stadium on the east coast.

Since then, though, Dunedin has floated the idea of adding a full practice field at the stadium and expanding the Englebert complex by 20,000 square feet.

The Jays' lease expires in 2017, and the team has two five-year renewal options.

"We realize it may not be possible in Dunedin to merge both" facilities, Anthopoulos told the Dunedin Council of Organizations on Friday. "But … we may be able to expand some things, change some things, meet in the middle. … If they can do some of those things, why move?"

Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne told the Times that his staff, in an effort to at least keep the Jays on the west coast, had reached out to the team a month or so ago about the possibility of partnering with the Philadelphia Phillies, who train in Clearwater.

"We just informally got a sense from our brief conversation with the team leadership that their focus is really still Dunedin. They're no longer focused on Palm Beach Gardens," Horne said.

"Apparently, that's dead. They've got those extensions on their contract, so there's no sense of urgency for them to do something either way."

According to the Palm Beach Post, the Astros are now partnering with the Washington Nationals in their continued pursuit of a joint stadium, possibly in Lake Worth, another east-coast community.

The Nationals have expressed unhappiness with the facilities in Viera, where they currently train. The Astros train in Kissimmee.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers said he remains "cautiously optimistic" that the team will not move. He said the city staff hopes to sit down next week with Jays president Paul Beeston to kick off contract renewal talks.

"I'm real excited about it," he said. "I think there's a real good chance we'll be able to have dialogue and get an estimate of what the cost is going to be and how we're going to pay for it."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected]

Blue Jays' flirtation with east coast on spring training stadium appears dead 02/25/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 7:31pm]
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