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St. Petersburg might not lure another spring team

ST. PETERSBURG — Yes, the Tampa Bay Rays want to turn soon-to-be-vacant Progress Energy Park into a new, slick $450-million permanent home.

But say, for the moment, that deal falls apart.

Could the city, instead, find another team to continue the nearly 95-year-long history of spring baseball on St. Petersburg's waterfront?

Probably not.

At least any time soon.

Without spending millions of dollars in stadium enhancements.

Of Major League Baseball's 30 teams, none would seem interested in relocating to St. Petersburg for a variety of reasons, according to baseball and government officials.

It means Friday's 1:05 p.m. first pitch against the Cincinnati Reds could be the last in the city's storied spring history.

"We kind of realize this is it," said Nick Gandy, a spokesman for the Florida Sports Foundation, the state's sports promoter. "The history and tradition and what's gone on in that stadium is the biggest thing (you're going to) lose."

Currently, 18 major league teams train in Florida. Another 12 train in Arizona. Next year, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cleveland Indians will relocate from Florida to Arizona to make the split 16-14.

Among Arizona's teams, St. Petersburg would seem an improbable fit.

With the exception of the Colorado Rockies, the teams in Arizona all either play in modern facilities or have long-term leases to remain out west. The Rockies may be looking to leave their current home in Tucson, but Florida never has been discussed publicly as an option, nor practically does it make much sense.

As for Florida's teams, only two are not locked into long-term leases: the Cincinnati Reds and the Baltimore Orioles.

The Reds are negotiating to move to Arizona. If they decide to stay, Sarasota appears ready to commit $32-million to keep them.

And the Orioles may stay in Fort Lauderdale, or they may leave. If they do go, their eyes are on Vero Beach and the complex the Dodgers are vacating. The Orioles trained in St. Petersburg from 1992 to 1995.

The city of Sarasota has let the Orioles know that if they're interested in a Plan C, Sarasota may have the money to make the transition smoother. St. Petersburg officials have not even talked about a new spring training franchise, let alone how much it may cost to get them here, or how the city would pay for it.

“If there's a way we could attract somebody else in here, it certainly would be a delightful conversation," said City Council Chairman Jamie Bennett. "But I'm not sure that can happen."

The attraction for Major League Baseball, of course, isn't a pretty setting like Al Lang. It's modern facilities and large, attached practice complexes.

In that regard, St. Petersburg strikes out.

And after next week, a city with such a long history of spring baseball will be left looking for something to fill the void.

Dollars and cents of spring baseball

As popular as spring training at Al Lang Field may be, it's a money loser for the city of St. Petersburg.

Revenue (2008 budget) Expenses (2008 budget)
$85,000 – parking $967,000 – maintenance
$30,000 – tickets $145,000 – insurance
$53,000 – naming rights
Total – $168,000 Total – $1,112,000

St. Petersburg might not lure another spring team 03/22/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2008 1:30pm]
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