Houston Astros owner Jim Crane — whose team opened The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches earlier this year in West Palm Beach — got married over the Memorial Day weekend to Whitney Wheeler at his Floridian National Golf Club in Palm City.
The sunset wedding ceremony took place in front of more than 120 friends — all dressed in white — on a grass bluff overlooking the resort’s marina. The couple stood between two large floral swan sculptures.
Country music star Clay Walker performed. Guests included Houston Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow, NBA Hall of Famer and Houston Rockets legend Clude Drexler and Monterey County Superior Court Judge Pamela Butler.
Whitney Crane wore a custom-designed wedding gown by Carolina Herrera.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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 Ballparkin 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.
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 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).
“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.
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.’’
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.
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).
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.
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.
The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals suffered some minor damage last week in downtown West Palm Beach.
The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the teams’ $148 million spring training complex south of 45th Street, is doing just fine and remains on schedule to open in a few weeks.
But last Friday, maintenance workers were seen picking up the pieces after a glass frame containing Astros and Nationals jerseys fell from a wall on the sixth floor of the Weisman Palm Beach County Governmental Center.
What caused the frame to dislodge from its mount on a wall outside the County Commission chambers is a mystery. But the crash was so loud it was heard on the first floor of the atrium-style building.
“I would like to tell you that Robert Redford hit a towering home run which shattered the glass,’’ assistant county administrator Todd Bonlarron said, referring to the movie The Natural, “but unfortunately the frame just split.’’
The jerseys were a gift from the teams after the county commission in 2015 approved the facility, which is being financed in part with $108 million in revenue from a county tax on hotels and motels.
The frame was mounted in the lobby of the sixth floor, on a wall next to a door used by commissioners to access their dais in the commission meeting room.
No word yet on when, or if, the frame will be replaced.
Seems like the soonest way to see Nationals and Astros jerseys side by side is Feb. 28 when the teams square off for the inaugural game at The 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.
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.
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.’’