By: Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
WEST PALM BEACH -- When the Expos come back, will they bring Youppi back?
Can Montreal support a major-league team?
What would the city of Montreal do about getting a new stadium?
Would Montreal choose south Florida as a spring-training site like it did years ago in this city and in Jupiter?
There were other questions asked but the ones above seemed to be the most popular ones at speaking gigs I've had in this area in the last week, including Thursday at the Chesterfield Hotel where the Palm Beach Rotary Club convened.
As we chuckled, I told one inquisitor last week that Youppi will likely be in the plans should Major League Baseball grant another franchise to Montreal. Of course, it would seem that Youppi would have to be obtained from the Montreal Canadiens, who use the impish, charismatic mascot during the NHL season.
Montreal can support another baseball team because with a new stadium downtown, people would be more supportive watching in a smaller, more compact park holding about 35,000-40,000, compared to the monstrosity that is the Big Owe in the east end. But until a new stadium is build, Olympic Stadium would have to be used on an interim basis for several years.
I told my audiences that the city of Montreal, province of Quebec and the federal government in Ottawa would likely combine to build the stadium along with possible money from the franchise's ownership group that includes Charles Bronfman's son Stephen and Dollarama department store mogul Larry Rossy.
I said I had talked a few weeks ago with commissioner Rob Manfred and that he continues to express support for Montreal as a potential city, either through expansion or possible relocation of another team.
Montreal would also have to consider south Florida as a spring-training site because it has ties to this area after spending part of February and all of March for decades at Municipal Stadium in West Palm Beach and later in Jupiter. Possible locations for a spring-training site for a new team include Port St. Lucie where the Mets train, Vero Beach, where the Dodgers once called home, and perhaps Lantana.
Tom Bradford, town manager for the Town of Palm Beach, told me at Thursday's meeting that he has heard a site on 10th Ave. in West Palm Beach is a possible location for a spring-training team.
With the Nationals and Astros taking up a joint site beginning in 2017 at 45th and Haverhill in West Palm Beach, south Florida will now have four spring-training teams, with the other two being the Marlins and Cardinals in Jupiter.
After being holed up in Kissimmee in Central Florida for 32 years, the Astros are on the move to West Palm next year. It hurts because a study I obtained from the town of Kissimmee, says the economic impact of six weeks of spring training in that area brought in about $46-million from revenue associated with hotels, restaurants, car rentals and other items.
"It's pretty significant,'' said Don Miers, sports and event facilities director for Osceola County Stadium, where the Astros train, when he was queried about the $46-million figure. "But we do have a lot of people who will be staying in our area because it's so close to Disney World in Orlando so it doesn’t hurt as much. But if this happened in Lakeland with the Tigers, they would be devastated.
“I started out with the Astros as their director of Florida operations 32 years ago. We built this stadium on pasture land in the middle of nowhere. The Astros helped put this community on the map for baseball.''
According to information I received from Brevard County which serves Viera, where the Nationals and before that, the Expos trained, the economic impact as I derived was a mere $20-million for six weeks, although I think that figure is low, especially when just down the road, the Astros pulled in $46-million. In the end, both the facilities in Kissimmee and Viera needed serious upgrading.
”We were never given the opportunity by the Astros to talk to them about staying,’’ Miers said.
With the Nationals and Astros on the move, the Braves want to get out of the Disney area because executives and players just aren’t enthralled about getting on a bus to travel two hours to another spring-training site.
Over the years, many teams have left Florida. For example, the Twins left Orlando to go to Fort Myers, the Indians moved from Winter Haven to Arizona, the Reds left both Plant City and Sarasota, the White Sox left Sarasota, the Royals left Baseball City. The list goes on.
In some cases, some teams relocated. The Orioles have been in Sarasota for a number of years and the Rays took over from the Rangers in Port Charlotte.
Montreal fans and potential owners are looking forward to the day when they might end up with spring training in Florida again. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?