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Wiregrass fields developer eyes spring training, talks with MLB teams

WESLEY CHAPEL — The developer of a Wiregrass area sports complex says he is talking with owners from two Major League Baseball teams about holding spring training games at the proposed site.

James Talton, owner of Blue Marble Strategic, said that in late January he contacted four baseball teams about relocating to the proposed Wiregrass site and has since held "active talks" with the owners of two of those teams.

"I've had good productive phone calls," Talton said Friday. "There was enough interest to set up face-to-face meetings with (the owners). I had one today and will have one next week."

Talton declined to identify the teams or owners to avoid jeopardizing the discussions, which he described as preliminary.

"I don't want to distract from the negotiations," he said.

The move comes as Florida has upped its commitment to spring training in the wake of six Major League teams — the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers — moving their spring training games to Arizona since 1998.

Gov. Rick Scott last year signed a law pledging $20 million in state funding for new stadiums to keep more Major League teams from fleeing.

Two teams are most at risk to leave: the Toronto Blue Jays, who play in Dunedin, and the Houston Astros, who play in Kissimmee. The Blue Jays are seeking a new stadium and the Astros are in talks with Palm Beach Gardens.

So far the negotiations with Talton and the owners have not involved county officials.

Pasco Commission Chairman Jack Mariano described the prospect of landing spring training as "exciting."

"People are in discussions and hopefully something will happen," he said.

Commissioners signed a contract with Talton in mid January to develop the 120-acre Wiregrass site into a complex of 17 fields, including a 2,100-seat stadium that could be reconfigured to seat 10,000.

The county agreed to provide $11 million in tourism development funds for the project while Talton would be responsible for lining up the remaining funding, about $23 million.

Talton said he started to reach out to teams about a week after winning the contract to develop Wiregrass.

In addition to talking with team owners, Talton said he's courting college and youth leagues about holding tournaments at Wiregrass in 2016.

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

Wiregrass fields developer eyes spring training, talks with MLB teams 02/14/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 9:29pm]
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