Former Congressman Mark Foley proud of his role in The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

Missing from the pre-game ceremonies for the inaugural game at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches were some of the key players who worked behind the scenes to make the project happen.

One of those players was former Congressman Mark Foley, who spent time during Tuesday’s game walking around the concourse where he reminisced, when asked by a reporter, about his instrumental role.

Former Congressman Mark Foley at the inaugural game of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Feb. 28, 2017 (Joe Capozzi/The Palm Beach Post)

Former Congressman Mark Foley at the inaugural game of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Feb. 28, 2017 (Joe Capozzi/The Palm Beach Post)

Foley said the project was a collective effort by dozens of people. But he admitted that he takes pride in playing a key part.

It was Foley who first introduced the future site of the ballpark to Mark Lerner, a principal owner of the Washington Nationals, back in November 2013 at a time when it looked like the project might not happen in Palm Beach County.

“I am personally gratified,’’ he said while standing at the edge of the grass berm in centerfield as the Nationals played the Astros. “It’s another opportunity to celebrate the community that I love.’’

Back then, Foley was also looked for redemption. It had been seven years since he resigned from Congress after sending sexually explicit messages to a former male page. He hoped the baseball project could help repair his image.

(Left to right: Audrey Wolf of Palm Beach County facilities office, Mark Foley of Nationals, Giles Kibbe of Astros, deputy county administrator Verdenia Baker, Arthur Fuccillo of Nationals, Tom McNicholas of Astros at West Palm Beach City Commission meeting in Feb. 2015.

(Left to right: Audrey Wolf of Palm Beach County facilities office, Mark Foley of Nationals, Giles Kibbe of Astros, deputy county administrator Verdenia Baker, Arthur Fuccillo of Nationals, Tom McNicholas of Astros at West Palm Beach City Commission meeting in Feb. 2015.

 

A few days before Thanksgiving in 2013, Foley took Lerner on a driving tour of the 160-acre site, a former landfill south of 45th Street. It was raining that day and there wasn’t much to see aside from mounds of weeds and trees.

But Lerner had a vision to see potential in the site as a future baseball complex – a vision that at the time still faced uncertainties about whether Palm Beach County would help pay for it.

“I knew this would be a heavy lift and I knew the (securing tourist tax revenue) would be a challenge,’’ Foley recalled Tuesday.

“So on that fateful day in November 2013, the most encouraging sign was Mark Lerner’s reaction to the location, when he said, ‘I love it!’

“We went back to Cracker Barrel (the low-frills restaurant just east of the ballpark site at 45th Street and Interstate 95) and sat over coffee. He showed me his blueprints for Kissimmee (where the Nationals originally wanted to go before being shot down months earlier by Osceola County).’’

Lerner told Foley he thought the project the Nationals envisioned in Kissimmee could work in West Palm Beach.

Mark Foley is in back row center. Palm Beach County and West Palm Beach elected officials sign documents as members of MLB baseball team ownership look on during the Governor's baseball dinner in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla., on February 13, 2015. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Mark Foley is in back row center next to Mark Lerner and other baseball and elected officials during the Governor’s baseball dinner in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla., on February 13, 2015. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

“At that moment, everything is just kind of a pipe dream and like many things in politics you dream of these visions but are they ever enacted? In this particular mission it just came together seamlessly,’’ said Foley.

A month or so after the driving tour, Foley was hired by the Nationals as a lobbyist. Foley later helped arrange a meeting between the Nationals and Houston Astros at West Palm Beach City Hall where Chris Roog, the city’s director of development, first suggested that the teams pair up on a two-team facility.

“Lerner heard that and jumped in,’’ Foley recalled.

Although Foley didn’t participate in the on-field ceremonies before the game, he celebrated with team officials at private receptions in their suites during the game.

 

 

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