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Rays spring training plan in Pasco lands $35 million from lawmakers

The sports training and baseball center also would be used for amateur tournaments
State lawmakers included $35 million in the proposed state budget for a sports training complex in Pasco County in which the main tenant would be the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays are shown warming up before a game in February 2021 in Port Charlotte. The team's lease there runs through 2028.
State lawmakers included $35 million in the proposed state budget for a sports training complex in Pasco County in which the main tenant would be the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays are shown warming up before a game in February 2021 in Port Charlotte. The team's lease there runs through 2028. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Mar. 10|Updated Mar. 10

“Play ball” is closer to being shouted at a new spring training home for the Tampa Bay Rays in Pasco County.

Florida legislators included $35 million for a sports training and youth baseball tournament complex in Pasco in the so-called sprinkle list of special appropriations released Wednesday night.

The funding, part of the Legislature’s planned state budget, still needs formal approval from lawmakers before it is sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his consideration.

The sports training complex is planned to include several full-size practice fields, a stadium with lighting and spectator seating, team clubhouse, locker rooms, indoor and outdoor training facilities, kitchen and dining rooms, player housing and parking, according to the funding request submitted by Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills.

Though it would be available to Pasco County for off-season tournaments as part of its sports tourism marketing efforts, the prime tenant of the complex is intended to be the Tampa Bay Rays. The team’s lease at its current spring training site in Port Charlotte runs through 2028.

The Rays declined comment.

Pasco Commission chairperson Kathryn Starkey declined comment on the specific appropriation Thursday, but noted the value of being a major league market.

“The whole region benefits if we’re able to keep our major league teams in the area,” Starkey said.

The potential site is property within 124 acres of publicly owned land just north of State Road 54, less than 2.5 miles west of the Suncoast Parkway in Odessa. It sits between two residential developments — Starkey Ranch to the west and Asturia to the east.

There, Pasco County owns 49 acres and the Pasco School District has 75 acres that is targeted for construction of a future high school.

The Rays previously said they would play their spring training games at a new stadium in Ybor City, but the team backed away from that stance in mid-December. Then, team officials told the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County and the Tampa Sports Authority that Major League Baseball “spring training games are no longer planned on being played at the venue,” according to a report commissioned by the Sports Authority.

The future site of the team’s regular season stadium remains in limbo after Major League Baseball owners killed the Ray’s proposal to play half its season in Tampa and half in Montreal, Canada.

But the potential spring training site remained focused on Pasco County, the home of Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. Simpson, who was chairman of Pasco’s Economic Development Council in the mid-2000s, said previously the business community talked of luring spring training to Pasco 15 years ago.

A spring training complex likely would spur ancillary development including hotels and restaurants in the vicinity.

“It would be a wonderful addition to the community,” said Greg Armstrong, chairman of the public policy committee for the Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce. “Assuming the Rays are going to stay, and I guess they are, we need baseball in the Tampa Bay area.”

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