Pre-game ceremonies for first game at Ballpark of Palm Beaches include MLB commissioner

Tickets are still available for Tuesday’s inaugural game at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. The Washington Nationals host the Houston Astros at 1:05 p.m.

Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased online at ballparkpalmbeaches.com or in-person at the newly-opened Ballpark of the Palm Beaches box office at the main stadium.

Here’s a run-down of the pre-game ceremonies, emceed by Charlie Slowes, the Nationals’ play-by-play announcer.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will include Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, Principal Owners of the Washington Nationals Ted and Annette Lerner and members of the Lerner family, Owner and Chairman of the Houston Astros, Jim Crane, and members of his family and executive team.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred talks during the Governor's baseball dinner in downtown West Palm Beach on Feb. 13.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred talks during the Governor’s baseball dinner in downtown West Palm Beach on Feb. 13, 2015.

They will be joined on the field by the Palm Beach County Mayor Paulette Burdick and three other members of the county commission (Commissioners Melissa McKinlay and Mary Lou Berger will not attend because they’re in Washington at a National Association of Counties conference.) West Palm beach Mayor Jeri Muoio will attend with members of the City Commission and Daniel Martell,  the former CEO of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County who was instrumental in launching the project.

The ceremonial first pitch thrown by children from the Crossroads Baptist Church, which is just north of the Ballpark in West Palm Beach

The U.S. flag will be presented by the West Palm Beach Police Department Honor Guard, led by Lt. Frank DiStefano.

The National Anthem will be sung by Palm Beach Opera Soprano Jessica Fishenfeld. God Bless America performed by Palm Beach Opera tenor Derrek Stark.

There will be a flyover by the U.S. Coast Guard from Air Station Miami.

The lineup card will be delivered by Muoio and Burdick.

The game ball will be delivered by Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker.

“Play Ball!” will be announced by a child from the Crossroads Baptist Church.

Chris Deitrick will handle the play-by-play commentary.

There are more than 3,200 parking spaces on-site at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Day-of-game parking is available in all lots for $10.

RV and bus parking is available for $25. Ballpark parking lots will open on game days at 9:00 a.m. Valet parking is available to fans at a price of $20 per car.

Entrances to the onsite parking can be found on Haverhill Road and Military Trail. Fans can enter the main Haverhill Road entrance to park in the northwest parking area. Here fans can also access the south lot that features the largest number of spaces. From Military Trail, fans may enter the parking lot south of the Shiloh Street entrance.

Gates open at 10:30 a.m. for season ticket holders and 11 a.m. for the general public.

Houston Astros’ ‘Little Mascot’: The boy who grew up with The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

He’s the “Little Mascot” of the Houston Astros.

And the nickname is entirely appropriate for the 4-year-old Martin County boy whose childhood has taken shape in and around the development of the Astros’ new spring training home, The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Morgan McNicholas of Stuart, Fla., is the Houston Astros' unofficial "Little Mascot" (Photo courtesy McNicholas family)
Morgan McNicholas of Stuart, Fla., is the Houston Astros’ unofficial “Little Mascot” (Photo courtesy McNicholas family)

Morgan McNicholas was born April 6, 2012, just one month after his father was hired by Astros owner Jim Crane to help find a new spring training home for his team.

As the project took shape, Tom McNicholas, president of the statewide public affairs firm McNicholas and Associates, worked long hours, including many in his Stuart home, preparing documents and presentations for dozens and dozens of meetings with government leaders.

By 2014, as the Astros shifted their focus from a site in Palm Beach Gardens to one in West Palm Beach, the project “really started to click with Morgan,’’ said his mother, Krissy McNicholas.

They say kids pick up cues from their parents. Morgan, just 2, quickly became a keen observer and listener as his dad worked around the house, nearly “on the phone day and night with the teams,’’ Krissy said.

He started parroting buzz words: “Ballpark”… “Giles” (the first name of the Astros’ general counsel, Giles Kibbe)… “Art” (the first name of the Washington Nationals’ partner, Art Fuccillo).

(L-R) Washington Nationals general partner Art Fuccillo, Houston Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe, Tom McNicholas, president of McNicholas & Associates, Astros owner Jim Crane and Nationals lobbyist Mark Foley listen to proceedings for a possible new baseball field at the Palm Beach County Commission chambers in downtown West Palm Beach, on Tuesday, September 23, 2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
(L-R) Washington Nationals general partner Art Fuccillo, Houston Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe, Tom McNicholas, president of McNicholas & Associates, Astros owner Jim Crane and Nationals lobbyist Mark Foley listen to proceedings for a possible new baseball field at the Palm Beach County Commission chambers in downtown West Palm Beach, on Tuesday, September 23, 2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

 

“I would be playing with the kids or trying to get them out the door,’’ Krissy recalled, “and Morgan would pull a plastic toy phone out of his pocket and tell me, “’I have a call with Giles right now.’’’

It was Kibbe who coined the nickname “Little Mascot.’’ One day, the Houston lawyer stopped by the McNicholas house to pick up Tom for a lobbying trip to Tallahassee.

“Once Morgan saw Giles walk in, he ran into our bedroom, rolled out a suitcase that Tom had left at the end of the bed and immediately started throwing his clothes in it,’’ she recalled.

“He packed pullups and his favorite stuffed animal. He really thought he was going to ‘Tallahatchee’ with them.’’

To help himself prepare for presentations and meetings, Tom McNicholas often sat with his three kids, including 3-year-old Mackenzie and 2-year-old Madelyn. He would show them photos and walk them through the construction process of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Morgan quickly became an expert on construction equipment, telling his parents how the bulldozers were preparing the 160-acre site for the two teams.

Morgan and Mackenzie McNicholas with Calvin, the Washington Nationals racing President, on Feb. 20, 2017 at The Palm Beach Zoo. (Photo by Rich Graulich)
Morgan and Mackenzie McNicholas with Calvin, the Washington Nationals racing President, on Feb. 20, 2017 at The Palm Beach Zoo. (Rich Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

In December, his dad built a sandbox in the back yard. “Morgan immediately went to work and built a ballpark in the sand,’’ Krissy said.

This past fall, Morgan brought his dad in for Show and Tell in his pre-school class. At Morgan’s request, Tom offered the class a kids’ overview of the ballpark project and read the book “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site.’’

“Morgan also wanted to make sure the kids knew exactly who was going to be playing there, so each child received an Astros or Nationals hat, compliments of Morgan,’’ Krissy said.

The McNicholas family will attend the first game at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Tuesday when the Nationals host the Astros.

Morgan has been checking off the days on a calendar at home marked “Countdown To Opening Day.’’

“I get reminded every day that it is coming,’’ Krissy said. “He can’t wait.’’

Racing Presidents competition just got heavier with West Palm Beach arrival of William Howard Taft

Move over, Herbie and Cal.

The Racing Presidents competition at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches just got a lot heavier.

"Bill" -- aka William Howard Taft -- shown at a Racing Presidents appearance in Nationals Park. (Photo courtesy Washington Nationals)
“Bill” — aka William Howard Taft — shown at a Racing Presidents appearance in Nationals Park. (Photo courtesy Washington Nationals)

William Howard Taft — the burly commander in chief with the handlebar mustache — is retiring to West Palm Beach where he will compete with Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge in the middle of the fourth inning of Washington Nationals home games.

“Bill,’’ as the Racing President is known, will arrive this weekend, in time for Tuesday’s inaugural Grapefruit League game between the Nationals and Houston Astros.

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Calvin and Herbie at The Palm Beach Outlets Mall in December

Herbie and Cal have been in town for the last few months, making appearances, as presidents do, to promote the opening of the $150 million spring training complex south of 45th Street.

The Nationals, in announcing Taft’s retirement on Friday to The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, added the 27th president to make the in-game races a bit more competitive instead of a two-way races each game between Hoover and Coolidge.

Taft had a tough time last year at president races in Nationals Park, ranking last among six Racing Presidents with just nine race wins. (Herbie didn’t do much better, at 10 wins.)

You can see all of the Racing Presidents results on the fun and informative Let Teddy Win blog.

As for the real Taft, he has a solid historical baseball connection. On April 10, 1910, he became the first president to throw out the first ball of the major league season. That launched a tradition of ceremonial first pitches by presidents.

He is also remembered as the heaviest president, standing 5 feet 11 and topping out at 335-340 pounds toward the end of his presidency (1909-1913).

 

At least 60 people expected tonight at heroin strategy meeting

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said she is expecting at least 60 people tonight at an informal meeting with families affected by the opioid epidemic.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay

McKinlay and West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio are hosting the two-hour meeting, called Opioid Addiction Community Conversation, at 6:30 p.m. at the Palm Beach County Main Library, 3650 Summit Blvd., West Palm Beach.

“I hope we see families that would like to partner with us and be vocal advocates in trying to make change,” said McKinlay has said.

“The families that have been going through this, I want them to tell me and Commissioner Materio, or any other elected leaders that want to sit in, where they have hit road blocks, where they see gaps in services. I want them to tell us where the system is broken because they know better than anybody else.”

As of Tuesday, about 55 people had told McKinlay’s office they are planning to attend. Assuming many of those RSVPs will include more than one person, the attendance could hit 75, according to her staff.

McKinlay started planning the meeting late last year after the overdose death of the daughter of her chief aide.

Tasha McCraw, the daughter of Johnnie Easton, a longtime aide in McKinlay’s District 6 office, died Nov. 18 — one day after a Palm Beach Post investigation about the opioid epidemic was published online.

 

Calvin Coolidge celebrates Presidents Day at the Palm Beach Zoo

To celebrate Presidents Day, Calvin Coolidge went to the Palm Beach Zoo today.

Calvin, as the oversized caricatured Coolidge is known, is one of two racing presidents mascots who will be fixtures at Washington Nationals’ spring training games at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.kid

His Ballpark race partner, Herbie Hoover, got the day off today.

But Calvin – wearing a Nationals jersey with No. 30 (because he was the 30th president, serving from 1923-29) — hung out with dozens of children at the zoo, exchanging high-fives, posing for photographs and visiting the animals.

“He’s got a really big head,’’ one kid yelled to his mother as Calvin ducked to avoid branches outside the otter exhibit.

Calvin, who doesn’t talk, stood next to the “How High Can You Jump” measuring stick by the panther exhibit (which showed how panthers can leap 17 feet). He came in at 10 ½ feet, including his 3-ft. head.

Most kids who encountered Calvin ran up to him to slap high-fives. Others looked on in bewilderment. One little girl in her mother’s arms let out a scream as the oversized mascot strutted by.

“There’s usually two reactions: Intense fascination or fear,’’ said Ray Smith, a Nationals experiential marketing manager who doubled as Calvin’s Secret Service protection for the day.birds

Calvin and Herbie have been making appearances around the area for the last few weeks promoting the Nationals’ presence at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. The team shares the $150 million complex with the Houston Astros.

The Nationals host the Astros in the very first game on Feb. 28.  That day, and on the rest of the Nationals’ home games in West Palm Beach, Calvin and Herbie will race each other on the field in the middle of the fourth inning.

They’ll also wander around the stands, greeting fans — much like Calvin did today at the zoo, which was full of kids because school was closed for Presidents Day.

“I love watching everybody’s faces as he comes through,’’ laughed Ron Brooks, the zoo’s events manager, who escorted Calvin.

As he walked past the red-shoulder hawk exhibit, Calvin received a gentle ribbing from zoo keeper Carter Brentz.

“You’re scaring my birds. They’re not eating,’’ she said with a laugh.

Heroin crisis: County commissioner “disappointed” by Governor’s lack of “urgency”

A week after asking Gov. Rick Scott to declare a public health emergency over the opioid crisis, Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said Thursday she was “pretty disappointed” with the response she received from Scott’s office earlier this week.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay

While in Tallahassee on Wednesday, McKinlay met with staff members of the Scott’s to discuss her letter, which cited statistics from The Palm Beach Post and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement about the sharp rise in overdoses, deaths and hospital costs.

“I was pretty disappointed. They didn’t think a declaration was necessary,’’ she said in an interview with The Post.

“There didn’t seem to be any recognition of how urgent this crisis is, as your reporting and the numbers themselves have shown. It was frustrating, to say the least’’

Scott, a Republican, was not in Tallahassee that day, so McKinlay, a Democrat, did not meet with him. She said was encouraged to work with the Attorney General’s office, which Scott’s staff told her was so effective in helping shut down the OxyContin pill mills in Palm Beach County a few years ago.

But McKinlay said the AG’s office was so effective because the governor declared a public health emergency in 2011 over the pill-mill crisis.

She also pointed out that governors in other states have declared public health emergencies to address the crisis. But Scott’s office was not swayed.

“There didn’t seem to be any urgency by the governor’s staff to address the issue,’’ she said. “But I’m not giving up.’’

McKinlay said she was encouraged that U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, in remarks from the House floor in Washington on Thursday, called for more help for communities battling the epidemic

Also Thursday, McKinlay attended a House subcommittee hearing where State Attorney Dave Aronberg gave a Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force presentation on legislation to curb the epidemic and fraud in the addiction treatment industry.

On Wednesday, she will meet with more than 30 families affected by the opioid epidemic. The two-hour meeting, called Opioid Addiction Community Conversation, starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Palm Beach County Main Library branch, 3650 Summit Blvd., West Palm Beach.

Anyone interested in attending should email McKinlay’s staff at: kburke@pbcgov.org.

Houston Astros mascot to “orbit” around West Palm Beach this week

Don’t be surprised to see a large furry baseball mascot hanging out in West Palm Beach this week.

To help advance the arrival of the Houston Astros’ baseball team to their new spring training complex, the team’s mascot – Orbit – will make several appearances around town on Wednesday and Thursday.

Orbit, the Houston Astros mascot. (Photo courtesy of Astros)
Orbit, the Houston Astros mascot. (Photo courtesy of Astros)

Some of the appearances are open to the public. Here’s the schedule.

WEDNESDAY

Orbit and the Astros’ promotional team will arrive from Houston with the team’s equipment truck at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches early Wednesday morning. That’s open to the media only.

At 10 a.m., Orbit will spend an hour at the Palm Beach Children’s Hospital at St. Mary’s Medical Center on 45th Street. Media only.

At 12:30 p.m., the Astros’ promotional team will be at Duffy’s Sports Bar at 721 Village Blvd. That is open to the public and will last until 2 p.m.

From 4-7 p.m., Orbit and the promotional team will visit the Palm Beach Gardens Youth Athletic Association at 4301 Burns Rd. in Palm Beach Gardens. Open to public.

THURSDAY

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Orbit will host an anti-bullying show for students at Egret Lake Elementary School in West Palm Beach. School only.

From 10:30 a.m. to noon, Orbit will stroll down Clematis Street and ride the trolley.

He will be at Duffy’s Sports Bar at 225 Clematis St. from 12:30 p.m to 2 p.m. At 2:30 p.m., Orbit will head over to City Hall to meet with Mayor Jeri Muoio.

No Astros players will attend but they will report to spring training in West Palm Beach on Feb. 14.

Oh, say can you sing? Ballpark of the Palm Beaches to host National Anthem tryouts

Oh, say can you sing? Here’s your chance to show off your vocal pipes in front of thousands of baseball fans in West Palm beach this spring.

The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is hosting National Anthem auditions next Saturday at the Palm Beach Outlets mall on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard.c3lzoq8xuamxg5u

If you’re chosen, you may sing before a Houston Astros or Washington Nationals spring training game at the new complex south of 45th Street.

The auditions are Feb. 11 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. outside the Nike Store (suite E-301) at the outlets mall, which is on the north side of Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard just west of Interstate 95.