The Blue Jays will be reporting to spring training in Dunedin over the weekend and in the early part of next week, likely for the last time before we learn the fate of the relationship between the club and the Florida city.
The Jays need better facilities. Not only because of bad practice fields, like the one that cost Michael Saunders all by nine games last season, or because their big league and the minor league complexes are a ten minute drive apart, but because their stadium lacks the kinds of near-big league amenities (for both players and fans) that are now the norm in most other, newer Grapefruit League parks.
Back in mid-January, Mark Shapiro spoke extensively about the situation. He said that the team wants to do “everything humanly possible to work out a deal with Dunedin” to keep the club there for the long term (the club’s current agreement ends at the end of 2017), and that keeping the separate facilities isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. He also, somewhat dubiously, praised Dunedin’s location within the state, suggesting that, if they end up moving, it would be hard to find a spot in Florida that’s as good as where they’re already at.
He slipped in the fact that he’d been speaking with Paul Beeston about it all, too. Clearly he’d learned a lesson from having stepped in it on the grass issue in December, when he got a little too honest about the realities of that project, eventually admitting that “maybe what I didn’t know was quite how it had been communicated prior to me.”
As great as it is for fans who’ve developed a bond with the quirky city the Jays have made their spring home since their creation in 1977, the Dunedin love, then, was a little bit for show. And that’s where things get interesting.
Shapiro said that the club was preparing plans for upgrading their current facilities, but acknowledged that part of the value of that was that they could simply adapt such plans for a new spot, should it come to that.
If it does, maybe this is a thing: according to the Palm Beach Post, the Atlanta Braves are sniffing around for a move out of Orlando, and are considering going back to Palm Beach, where they spent 35 years, before moving in 1998.
Obviously it’s way too soon to try to connect this to the Blue Jays’ situation with Dunedin, and there’s no suggestion that they’d be looking to share a site with another club, but such a move would put a Braves facility right near the under-construction Palm Beach Gardens site that the Jays were seriously considering sharing with the Astros (who’ll now share with the Nationals), as well as the home of the Cardinals and Marlins in Jupiter.
From Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, it takes about 25 minutes to get to downtown West Palm Beach, and you pass through Palm Beach Gardens to get there. I’m getting way ahead of myself here — site proposals rise and collapse all the time, it seems, and the Jays certainly have a connection with Dunedin the new regime may not be so inclined to destroy — but add the Braves and (veeeeeery hypothetically) a second team to the area and you’ve got six teams in a mini-Arizona setup, with the Mets about 40 minutes north of Jupiter, too.
A Braves move to Palm Beach means there will also be a vacant site in Orlando, as well as Kissimmee, where the Astros will play until their move, and — though it’s more isolated and much less desirable — in Viera, where the Nats currently are.
I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
According to Shapiro’s interview the expectation is that the Jays will know by spring/early summer whether they’ll be staying in Dunedin or looking to move elsewhere. Either way having possibilities, like a shared facility with the Braves (which, just so we’re clear, nobody has ever suggested is a possibility except for me as a total hypothetical) or other locations looking to recapture tourist dollars they see escaping, will only help the Jays as they play the unseemly game of trying to extract the best deal possible for themselves from the people of Dunedin or whichever city or county or bizarre Florida entity they’re courting, either legitimately or merely as leverage.
Personally, I’ve really enjoyed what little time I’ve spent in Dunedin, and I’m a sucker for the nostalgia factor, so I’m all for the club finding a way to stay, but I’m not someone who goes down there for six weeks every spring, either, or who has to drive or ride the bus to Lakeland, Bradenton, Sarasota, Fort Myers, or god knows where else every other day. So… it will be interesting to see where the Jays really stand on this, when it all comes down to it — especially if, as it seems there might be, there are some clearly advantageous other possibilities.
For those of you going, though, I’m gonna go ahead and say enjoy Dunedin while you can. Talk to the friendly folks at the Dunedin House of Beer, go Bautista-spotting at the Chic-a-Boom Room, hit up the Dunedin Brewery (get the mahi-mahi tacos!), and all that good stuff. Y’know, just to be on the safe side.