One month from pitchers and catchers, crews scrambling to finish Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

Construction crews are scrambling to finish The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, which is supposed to open less than a month from now when the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals report for spring training.

Roughly 650 workers are on site every day, many of them working 20-hour days. This video, shot on Jan. 10, shows how busy the site is. But keep in mind that what you see in the video probably looks much different from what the site looks like today.

A lot can get done in a week. But a lot still needs to be done before players and fans start arriving next month.

Rick Greene, the West Palm Beach building official in charge of making sure they facility is safe, said he’s “very optimistic” The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches will open on time.

Worker on a ladder in the Washington Nationals bullpen in the main stadium of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, Jan. 10, 2017
Worker on a ladder in the Washington Nationals bullpen in the main stadium of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, Jan. 10, 2017

He said the Astros and Nationals last week started receiving “stocking certificates” from the city, allowing the teams to move in equipment and furniture to their respective clubhouses. This week and next week, he said, the city could start issuing “TCOs”, known as temporary certificates of occupancy, for different buildings on the 160-acre complex south of 45th Street.

“They are going for a temporary CO which allows the public or individuals to move into a building because all life safety issues have been addressed,” said Greene, the city’s director of development services.

” That’s not to say there might be some minor things still needed to get final COs but under temporary CO’s our big concerns at the city level are to make sure all life safety issues are addressed – (fire) sprinklers, elevators, handicapped parking, curbs to accommodate wheelchairs…’’

Final certificates of occupancy could be issued later this spring or after spring training, he said.

“The teams’ goal is to have folks walk on that site Feb. 18,’’ Greene said, referring to the date when the public will be allowed to watch players work out for the first time.

Washington Nationals dugout in main stadium at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, Jan. 10, 2017.
Washington Nationals dugout in main stadium at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, Jan. 10, 2017.

The first game is Feb. 28.

Issuing temporary COs and then final certificates at the last minute is not unusual for a big project.

“We went through the same thing with the Palm Beach Outlets,’’ he said, referring to the outlets mall that opened in 2014 on the old Palm Beach Mall site on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard just east of Interstate 95.

“We were issuing COs on the night of the grand opening,’’ Greene said.

“We’ve been down this road before. It’s actually a little bit easier because we’re dealing with just two ball teams unlike the mall.’’

Is there a chance the facility will look vastly different in spring 2018 than it will look this March?

“It may not be radically different,’’ Greene said. “It may not be perceptible from this year to next.’’

 

Birds at the Ballpark: Astros, Nationals could have feathered company at new spring training home

If the busy skies over Palm Beach County’s latest public construction project are any indication, the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals could have some feathered company at their new spring training home in West Palm Beach.

Click the video and see for yourself: Birds — hundreds of them — have been flying over the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, roosting on newly-erected light towers, on the roof of clubhouse buildings and on batting cage overhangs, along with the upper reaches of palm trees around the site.

 

It’s too early to determine whether the birds will stick around when the Astros and Nationals start playing spring training games in February. But one bird expert who viewed video clips that were shot by The Palm Beach Post on Dec. 16, 2016 thinks they could be permanent season-ticket holders at the $144 million complex.

The ballpark, just south of 45h Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail, is just a mile or two from the Palm Beach County landfill on Jog Road north of 45th Street.

Welder has some company from birds circling the Ballpark of the Palm Beach on Dec. 16, 2016
Welder has some company from birds circling the Ballpark of the Palm Beach on Dec. 16, 2016

“I think it will be a common occurance because of the proximity to the landfill,” said Ricardo Zambrano, a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Zambrano identified the birds as “fish crows,” scavengers that can be found picking through trash cans at the beach.

“Once the baseball stadium opens, with fans eating French fries and food, I’m sure they will be hanging around more,” he said.

But there’s not much food on the site now, just construction workers.

Why so many birds now?

Birds fly over construction crews at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Dec. 16, 2016.
Birds fly over construction crews at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Dec. 16, 2016.

The 160-acre site used to be a city landfill years ago before it was covered with vegetation and trees such as tall Australian pine.

“I think that the open space that existed prior to the stadium was better bird habitat,” said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club, “but the birds will adjust and become a common fixture at the baseball stadium.”

The teams started clearing the site in November 2015 when the construction started. When the stadium and light towers started to rise in the last few months, the birds discovered new and lofty places to roost.

Another theory: New grass and fresh landscaping on the 12 practice fields and the main stadium.

“It’s a very organic place right now,” said Marc Taylor, the construction program manager for the Astros and Nationals.

“I would expect they always will be there when we are fertilizing or reseeding the grass.”

Flocks of birds could be seen Dec. 16 over the main stadium, sitting on the light towers.

“They seem to like to hover over the batter eye as most lawn work is happening at the stadium field,” Taylor said.

 

 

Hail to the (baseball) chiefs: Coolidge and Hoover in town to promote Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover are in town today, golfing on Palm Beach, visiting Santa at the Palm Beach Outlets and mingling with fishermen at the Juno Pier.mall-kid

And it was hard to miss them, thanks to their larger-than-life heads.

“Calvin” and “Herbie,” as they’re known, are the presidential mascots of the Washington Nationals baseball team. They’re in town filming a video that will be shown before spring training games at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

We caught up with them at the outlets mall. Ben Walter, director of corporate partnerships at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, was kind enough to share photos from the mascots’ busy morning. We will catch up to them later in Juno Beach. Check out The Palm Beach Post later for a story.

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Remembering Jose Fernandez in the snow, and the time I nearly dropped his glove

Just about every writer who has covered the Marlins over the last few years has a Jose Fernandez story. I’ve got quite a few, and the photographs to go with most of them.

Let’s start with a snow story.

Jose Fernandez, 19, on his first visit to the Marlins dugout on June 9, 2011, after the team drafted him in the first round.
Jose Fernandez, 19, on his first visit to the Marlins dugout on June 9, 2011, after the team drafted him in the first round.

It was late April 2013, a few months before I moved from the sports department to Metro, and the Marlins had just arrived in Minnesota for an interleague series at open-air Target Field. A steady snowfall forced a postponement of the first game.

In other words, the Miami Marlins got snowed out in Minneapolis.

In the visitors’ clubhouse, most players cursed the frigid conditions and bemoaned the next day’s chilly double-header. But Fernandez – who fled Cuba on a raft in 2008 – was giddy: He got to see and touch snow for the first time in his 21-year-old life.

Less than two years before the snow out, he toured the Marlins’ clubhouse at Pro Player Stadium in Miami for the first time as the team showed off their June 2011 first-round draft pick. Just 19, he grinned at every camera thrust into his face.

At spring training in 2013, he was invited to big league camp, which meant he participated in Photo Day. As he posed for a Topps photographer, he noticed me lurking a few feet away, taking photos with my iPhone.

When the photo session he ended, he walked over and asked me if I wouldn’t mind texting him the pictures I’d been taking. “I want to send them to my mother,’’ he said. He rattled off his cell phone number, then jogged away.jose-photo-day-2015

Two years later, he noticed me again lurking nearby as the Topps photographer directed him into various stances on Photo Day 2015.

“OK, Jose, take off your glove. I want you to fold your arms and look right at me,’’ photographer Steve Moore said.

Jose turned and yelled in my direction: “Yo!”

I’d been looking down at my iPhone and I looked up to see his bright orange glove flying right at me. I dropped my phone onto the grass and barely caught his glove.

When the photographer asked him to put the glove back on, Jose held out his hands, waiting for me to toss it back to him. I shook my head ‘no’ and walked the glove back to him. For a second, I thought his face wore a disappointed “are you serious?” expression, but I didn’t want to risk tossing that shiny orange glove onto the grass.
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One May day at Dodger Stadium, he beat the Dodgers and then opened a folding chair on the grass in front of the visitors dugout. He sat down and watched a postgame fireworks display.

My favorite Jose story might’ve been the day in February 2014 when he was walking by the bleachers on a backfield. He noticed an old man sitting down. But what caught Jose’s eyes: The man had a walking cane made out of a baseball bat.

The guy was JW Porter, a retired major league catcher who once played with the likes of Mickey Mantle and Satchel Paige. Porter, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, also used to work as an usher at Roger Dean Stadium.

Unsolicited, Fernandez climbed up a few rows of bleachers, his cleats clickety-clacking on the aluminum. He sat down next to Porter. For the next 20 minutes, the old catcher and the young pitching phenom talked baseball.

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JW Porter and Jose Fernandez

On June 16, 2013, before my final home game as a Marlins beat writer, I watched Jose sign autographs for fans along the third-base line near the outfield wall at Marlins Park. He patiently signed everything put in front of him — balls and hats and jerseys. I stood a few feet away taking pictures.

Suddenly he realized he needed to get back to the clubhouse. But more autograph hounds were waiting for him along the railing and on top of the dugout.

“Hey,” he said to me as we walked toward the dugout. “Ask me some questions.”jose-signs-june-2013

I quickly caught on: He didn’t want it to look like he was blowing off the fans. So, I acted as his decoy and conducted a fake interview. As we fast-paced toward the dugout, I scribbled I-can’t-remember-what into my notebook as Jose mumbled over and over to me, “Thank you, man.”

Baseball scribes have an unusual coexistence with the players they cover. Athletes get to know writers over the course of a season. But we don’t become fast pals. Most players know a writer’s purpose is to report and write the news.

Photo by Allison Williams
Photo by Allison Williams

I wasn’t close with Jose, and the interactions I’ve described shouldn’t suggest that he was any more congenial with me than he was with any other writer.

In  all honesty, I’m not sure he actually knew or remembered my name.

His tragic death on Sunday brought back memories of another painfully loss more than 50 years ago. About a month before my ninth birthday, I woke up at home in suburban Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day 1973 to news that Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente had died in a plane crash.

Jose’s untimely passing at the age of 24 hurts just as bad. Maybe more because of his off-the-field moments of joy that I was fortunate to have witnessed.

 

As a run-up to Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, new baseball exhibit opens today at history museum

Debi Murray shows off a mannequin wearing a uniform loaned by All Star second baseman Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros. The uniform is on display at a new baseball exhibit that opened today at the Palm Beach County History Museum. Murray is chief archivist of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Debi Murray shows off a mannequin wearing a uniform loaned by All Star second baseman Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros. The uniform is on display at a new baseball exhibit that opened today at the Palm Beach County History Museum. Murray is chief archivist of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

A new baseball exhibit opens today at the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum in downtown West Palm Beach.

The exhibit — “For the Love of the Game: Baseball in the Palm Beaches” — offers an impressive microcosm of how baseball and the local area have influenced each other since the 1897 when Henry Flagler built a baseball diamond to entertain his hotel guests on Palm Beach.

It covers the area’s 120 history with baseball, including the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the new spring training home of the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros.

The exhibit, which runs through next July, was planned to open today as a run-up to the new spring training facility south of 45th Street and west of Interstate 95.

Many artifacts were loaned by local residents.

 

For $250, Ballpark of Palm Beaches offers early priority to buy season tickets

It will still be several months before tickets go on sale for the inaugural season at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, but fans can secure first priority by signing up for the exclusive Founder’s Club program.

Latest rendering of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches
Latest rendering of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

For $250, fans receive first right to reserve seats when season tickets become available this fall for the 2017 season of the new West Palm Beach home of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.

They’ll also be locked in to season ticket prices for the first two seasons.

There’s a limit a four tickets per membership and the $250 fee does not count as a seat deposit.

But the offer does include permanent name recognition on Founder’s Club signs located on the stadium concourse and a small personalized memento recognizing the Founder’s Club membership.

And members will get to take an exclusive tour of the ballpark just before it opens, which is scheduled for January.

Applications can be found at www.BallparkPalmBeaches.com. The website page has a Founder’s Club link to download. All submissions should be sent to Info@BallparkPalmBeaches.com or by Fax: 561.408.0723.

Brady Ballard, general manager for The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches
Brady Ballard, general manager for The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

Future announcements regarding ticket availability, job opportunities and the 2017 Spring Training schedule will be posted this Fall on @BPPalmBeaches Facebook and Twitter. All inquiries should be directed to http://www.BallparkPalmBeaches.com and can be addressed to Info@BallparkPalmBeaches.com.

Season tickets will be made available sometime in the fall, said Brady Ballard, general manager of the $144 million stadium south of 45th Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail.

“We are building our seat manifest and working with our newly hired ticket software partner,” he said.

“We also await the 2017 spring training schedule.  Ticket prices will be announced much closer to the availability date.”

 

Let there be light! Towers rise at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

Until last week, the construction site at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches didn’t offer any hints that it would one day be home to a Major League Baseball spring training facility.

That changed Thursday when crew installed light towers on one of the Washington Nationals’ six practice fields.

Light poles went up Thursday on one of the Washington Nationals' six practice fields at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Light poles went up Thursday on one of the Washington Nationals’ six practice fields at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. (Photo courtesy of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and McNicholas and Associates.)

Now, “Driving by it, it stands out as ‘That’s a baseball field,”’ said Brady Ballard, general manager of the ballpark.

The Nationals and Houston Astros will share the $144 million facility starting in January just south of 45th Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail.

“We all know it’s a tight schedule but we are on schedule,” Ballard said.

Each team will get six practice fields. Of the 12 fields, two will be up to Major League Baseball standards, including light poles.

The light poles at the main stadium haven’t gone up yet. In fact, the main stadium doesn’t quite look like a baseball facility yet, at least not from your car window on Military Trail or Haverhill Road. But that will change in the coming months.

In about two weeks, crews will start to install grass on some of the practice fields.

On Friday, the teams loaned some of their construction crews to help make improvements at a nearby church just north of the baseball facility.

 

Palm Beach County to Atlanta Braves: No bed tax money available for spring training complex

The new spring training home of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals is quickly taking shape in West Palm Beach, as you can see in the video below.

But plans by the Atlanta Braves to move to John Prince Park in suburban Lake Worth are going at a much slower pace.

 

Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker met with two top Braves officials in her office this past Monday but she said there wasn’t much progress.

Atlanta Braves vice chairman John Schuerholz
Atlanta Braves vice chairman John Schuerholz

In fact, she said the team officials still haven’t presented her with a written proposal of how they plan to pay for the $100 million facility they want to build in no the south end of John Prince.

Baker also said she told the Braves not to expect the county to contribute revenue from a local hotel tax.

The County Commission did pledge so-called “bed tax” money last year for the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the $144 million complex south of 45th Street where the Astros and Nationals will play starting in January.

But Baker said she told Braves chairman Terry McGuirk and vice chairman John Schuerholz earlier this week, “There are no bed tax dollars. It is not there.’’

She said the Braves indicated hope that Lake Worth and other towns near John Prince Park might contribute revenue to the project.

Baker said she has no plans to discuss the Braves during Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.

“There’s nothing to discuss,’’ she said. “They’re telling me they’re on a time crunch. I told them I still need a written proposal.’’

Now pitching for the Atlanta Braves: Collier County

Update: Collier County commissioners did not embrace the proposal this morning and asked the Braves to meet with county staff about other potential locations in the county.

Five residents spoke to commissioners, all against the proposal.

 

Original post:

Collier County commissioners will hear a proposal this morning to build a spring training complex for the Atlanta Braves east of Naples on Florida’s southwest coast.

The proposal, being pitched by a private development group, would compete against interest by some Palm Beach County officials to build the Braves a facility in John Prince Park west of Lake Worth.

Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker, who met with Braves officials on Friday, said she was still waiting for a formal proposal from the team.

The Naples Daily News said Collier County could spend up to $135 million in tourist tax money to build, finance and maintain the project over 30 years.

The Collier County Commission is scheduled to discuss the Braves at 10 a.m. this morning. The meeting can be seen live on the county’s website.

“We believe that relocating our spring training operations to a new facility in Naples and Collier County would be mutually beneficial to our organization and the citizens of Naples and Collier County,” Braves vice chairman John Schuerholz wrote Jan. 4 in a letter that was included in the private group’s proposal.

Schuerholz has a home in Naples.

 

New web site goes online for the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches has launched a new web page.

Screen shot of the landing page for the new web site for The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Screen shot of the landing page for the new web site for The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Like the actual ballpark south of 45th Street in West Palm Beach, the web page is still being developed.

But the initial landing page, which went online Friday, offers a few general details for now, including links to the official web pages of the teams that will share the 160-acre complex, the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.

Brady Ballard, the general manager of the ballpark, said the future website will include lots of images, links and information along with “key details of the ballpark experience, ticket information, team schedules and a calendar of non-spring training events.”

“More details to come as we build the site.”

The ballpark itself is supposed to open by January 2017.