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.

 

 

VIDEO: See how the new West Palm Beach spring training complex is taking shape

Want to take a quick ride with construction crews building the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, where the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros will play starting in January?

Click this short video to see what it looked like as of a week ago.

 

 

Fans cry foul as Marlins block prime spring training autograph spot

For 13 years, the place to be for local autograph-seekers during spring training was the sidewalk outside the Miami Marlins clubhouse building at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.

Look close: That's a mesh screen across the gate where Marlins fans used to gather to collect autographs.
Look close: That’s a mesh screen across the gate where Marlins fans used to gather to collect autographs.

Fans could reach through the bars of an aluminum gate along the team parking lot, allowing them to hand baseballs and photographs to Josh Beckett, Giancarlo Stanton and other Marlins players as they arrived for workouts in the morning and departed in the afternoon.

Those up-close-and-personal days are over.

When the Marlins open camp Friday, fans will not have access to the sidewalk in front of the building. They will be blocked at the entrance where Avenue A meets Stadium Drive.

If any fans manage to sneak by, they will find the gate covered by a mesh screen, recently installed to block anyone from reaching through the gates.

A Marlins official said the new “control mechanisms” are meant for the safety of young fans, who sometimes wander into the path of a car in their zest to collect a signature.

But fans are crying foul. They say the new measures go against what spring training is supposed to be about — the one place where they can get the kind of access to players rarely afforded in the regular season.

Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich in 2014. That gate is now covered by a mesh screen.
Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich in 2014. That gate is now covered by a mesh screen.

“They put that up to keep the millionaires away from the fans,’’ said Rich Reeves of Atlanta.

He might be right. According to people familiar with the situation, some players last year complained to team officials about the same “autograph brokers” – adults with bags full of baseballs and bats — who would set up on lawn chairs behind the fences at 5 a.m. every day to get signatures.

Ichiro was the big draw last spring, attracting fans who would gather four deep against the fence. With all-time home run king Barry Bonds joining the team as hitting coach this year, the Marlins decided to restrict access, the sources said.

But local baseball fans say the Marlins have had big-name stars in the past without any problems.

“I don’t understand why after all of these years they’re doing this now,’’ said Richie Nestro of Jupiter.mesh 3

“This ballpark used to be real fan-friendly. I used to bring my grandson. He got to get close to Giancarlo and all the players. Now, by putting up this fence, that’s out the window.’’

On Friday, fans will see a temporary barrier. But crews have already removed two palm trees to make way for a permanent sliding gate that will be installed in March, said Marlins vice president Claude Delorme.

“We were having lot of issues with people and kids going into the parking lot as players were backing out their cars last year. We wanted to take everything out of the parking lot. This is really a safety issue for us and a control mechanism,’’ he said.

“The last thing we want is to wait for an incident to happen and then say ‘we should have’ (done something to prevent it).’’

At the request of new Marlins manager Don Mattingly, fans will also be blocked from the two practice fields closest to the clubhouse, Fields 2 and 3. The sidewalks along the other four fields, known as “The Quad” near Frederick Small Road, will be open to fans.

Marlins pitcher Henderson Alvarez in 2014
Marlins pitcher Henderson Alvarez in 2014

“Mattingly asked us to look into it so we could better control the transition (of players) from field to field during the workouts,’’ Delorme said.

Fans will still have plenty of access for autographs, he said.

“I know there’s a few people who have expressed concern but they can still get to the players as they’re arriving. They will have access to players as they are going to the field for the game,’’ he said.

But fans say it’s unfair to restrict access to the prime autograph spot — the gate by the player lot.

“I just don’t get the point, after all these years, closing it off now,’’ said Adam Alexander of West Palm Beach.

“My son is 9. He was looking forward to coming to get autographs. He’s disappointed.’’

The access restrictions aren’t the only changes at Roger Dean Stadium this spring.gate

The ballpark has gotten rid of the popular grass berm in right field where fans could pay $15 to $20 to sit on the grass. It has been replaced with a 136-seat capacity Bullpen Club section, where tickets range from $52 to $60.

All of the changes are prompting some fans to say they will abandon Jupiter next year and spend time instead at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the new spring training home of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals south of 45th Street in West Palm Beach.

“They’re turning off a lot of fans,’’ Nestro said.

“And a lot of people don’t even know about (the restricted access) yet. Wait till they show up in a few days. They’re going to be shocked.’’

Wanted: Baseball memorabilia and memories — Ballpark designers hosting free gathering Saturday for the public

The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are inviting the public to sit down with them Saturday to share their personal stories about baseball in West Palm Beach as part of the planning for the teams’ new spring training complex.

Baseball legend Connie Mack was a West Palm Beach fixture
Baseball legend Connie Mack was a West Palm Beach fixture

Artist Blessing Hancock will be among the teams’ representatives who will help co-host the two-hour gathering on Saturday at the Johnson History Museum located in the historic 1916 Palm Beach County courthouse, 300 Dixie Highway in downtown West Palm Beach.

From 10 a.m. to noon, members of the public are encouraged to bring local baseball memorabilia – from ticket stubs and programs to uniforms and photographs – and share any stories they have of interacting with players in West Palm Beach.

Organizers hope the stories and memorabilia will serve two purposes – to influence the design the new ballpark’s art and architecture and be part of a special exhibition about the history of baseball in Palm Beach County.

The museum exhibition would coincide with the scheduled opening of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in January 2017.

Blessing Hancock (photo courtesy University of Texas at San Antonio)
Blessing Hancock (photo courtesy University of Texas at San Antonio)

Also co-hosting the event are the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, the Palm Beach County Art in Public Places program.

For more information call curator Debi Murray at 561-832-4164 ext. 105 or email her at dmurray@historicalsocietypbc.org

If you cannot attend the event, but would like to share your stories and/or memorabilia please contact dmurray@historicalsocietypbc.org.

Saying goodbye to a baseball brother

We said goodbye to our baseball brother Thursday night.

For 15 years, we vigorously competed with each other every day to be the first to break news.

With Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez at Shea Stadium in New York City, (L-R) Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, Joe Capozzi of The Palm Beach Post, Joe Frisaro of MLB.com and Juan Rodriguez of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
With Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez in 2008 before the last game at Shea Stadium in New York City, (L-R) Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, Joe Capozzi of The Palm Beach Post, Joe Frisaro of MLB.com and Juan Rodriguez of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Along the way, we forged a brotherhood of sorts – an unusual one considering that we were four baseball writers of different ages and backgrounds working for different media outlets.

I started covering the Marlins for The Palm Beach Post in 1999, roughly the same time that Clark Spencer started covering the team for the Miami Herald and Juan Rodriguez for the Sun Sentinel. Joe Frisaro came on the beat for mlb.com in 2002.

Until June of 2013, when I moved from the Marlins beat to the Palm Beach Post’s Metro Department, the four of us were a family of sorts for eight months every year. From spring training in February to the final game of the season in September or October, we often spent more time together than we did with our own families.

We sat within an arm’s reach of each other in the press box, through yawners and thrillers, no-hitters and World Series games and, until the team moved to Marlins Park in 2012, countless rain delays. We participated in pre-game and post-game interviews with more than 10 years of managers and players – from Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett to Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez.

Juan Rodriguez was proud to wear a pink Breast Cancer Awareness -- worn every year by Major League Baseball Players -- during a Marlins game in Los Angeles in 2013.
Juan Rodriguez was proud to wear a pink Breast Cancer Awareness band — worn every year by Major League Baseball Players — during a Marlins game in Los Angeles in 2013.

We often took the same flights to cities where the Marlins played. We usually shared taxi and subway rides to ballparks, along with too many lunches and dinners to remember.

Somehow, we managed to stay professional and friendly with each other, too – something that doesn’t always happen among competing beat writers in other baseball markets.

Each of us brought a peculiar personality to the mix, and I am convinced that the key ingredient to our unique chemistry was Juan Rodriguez.

He was the most quiet member of our group and probably the most talented — and the most humble. He had a gentle, laid-back demeanor that allowed him to develop key sources, consistently find fresh angles and work gracefully under the most intense deadline pressure.

Juan was the youngest in our group, too, which made it all the more tragic when we watched him collapse in the media room at the annual MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville in December 2012 – the first sign we had of what would result in a diagnosis of Grade IV glioblastoma multiforme.

Juan had surgery the next day in Nashville to remove a tumor from his brain. He was given six months, but he eventually returned to the beat and lived another three years.

Juan Rodriguez and retired Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell in 2013 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.
Juan Rodriguez and retired Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell in 2013 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.

Not once did we ever hear him complain “why me?”

He died Monday at the age of 42, leaving behind his wife, Tiffany, and their two children, Laura, 14, and Ryan, 12.

We gathered Thursday night to say goodbye at a Celebration of Life Service that served as a testament to how much he was loved and respected by friends, colleagues and the people he wrote about as a beat writer for more than 15 years.

More than 100 people attended the service at Christ the Rock Community Church in Cooper City, including Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who knew Juan as a Marlins coach and manager. Fredi flew in from Atlanta to pay his respects.

Also in attendance: Marlins general manager Mike Hill, assistant general manager Brian Chattin, former Marlins GM Larry Beinfest, retired Marlins traveling secretary Bill “Boomer” Beck, Marlins vice president P.J. Loyello, the staff from the Marlins media relations department and Marlins radio play-by-play announcer Glenn Geffner.

Mike Berardino, a former Sun Sentinel baseball writer who spent several years covering the Marlins with Juan, flew in from Minnesota to deliver a eulogy.

Outside the Marlins clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium, rapper Pitbull is flanked by (L-R) Clark Spencer, Juan Rodriguez and Joe Capozzi.
Outside the Marlins clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium, rapper Pitbull is flanked by (L-R) Clark Spencer, Juan Rodriguez and Joe Capozzi.

Other speakers included Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde (who wrote a wonderful tribute to Juan) and Juan’s three long-time Marlins beat-writer brothers.

Most speakers walked to the podium alone. Clark, Joe and I walked up together and stood together. We were surrounded by Juan, whose image covered the front of the altar in dozens of photographs – portraits, pictures with his wife and two children, and images with his baseball family.

There were tears, but also plenty of laughter. Juan would have wanted it that way.

His legacy will live on in everyone he touched, including the beat writers who forged a unique baseball brotherhood with him, because he made all of us better.

We will always miss him and we will never forget him.

 

What’s that smell? Ballpark construction unearths pungent reminders of trash dump

When it opens in 2017, the smells of baseball will permeate the air — grass (ballfields), leather (gloves), cowhide (baseballs) along with popcorn and maybe even cigar smoke.

But for now, the construction site at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches at time smells like something else — a trash dump.

That’s because a team of tractors has been digging up long-buried mounds of trash on the 160-acre site, which was used as a landfill from about 1955 until 2000.

Workers use front loaders to mine former land fill that will become major league baseball spring training facilities in West Palm Beach, Thursday, January 14, 2016. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post
Workers use front loaders to mine former land fill that will become major league baseball spring training facilities in West Palm Beach, Thursday, January 14, 2016. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post

The trash mounds have been covered by dirt and grass for several decades. But when construction started Nov. 10, tractors disturbed those mounds, releasing not-so-sweet landfill odors.

So far, crews have not heard any complaints from residents living around the site, which is south of 45th Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail. But onsite, where the public is not allowed, the trash smells can be evident, especially if the wind is blowing.

The so-called “mining” of the trash mounds is expected to last until about April, when the site will be cleared of debris and ready for vertical construction.

The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are scheduled to move in to the $144 million complex a year from now.

 

Your turn to bat! Museum wants your help on planning a new baseball exhibit

Baseball in Palm Beach County — from the Little Leagues to the Major Leagues — will be the topic of an upcoming exhibit at the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum.

Tentative plans call for the exhibition to open in September 2016 and run through June 2017 — to coincide with the opening of the new spring training complex that will be shared by the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals south of 45th Street.

Robert Corbitt, 72, holds a photo of baseball legend Connie Mack talking to Corbitt when he was 9 years old in 1952 at Phipps Park.
Robert Corbitt, 72, holds a photo of baseball legend Connie Mack talking to Corbitt when he was 9 years old in 1952 at Phipps Park.

Work on the baseball facility, scheduled to open in January 2017, is scheduled to start sometime in October. But work on the museum’s baseball exhibition already has started — and the museum wants your help.

Curators are asking local residents to help guide and inspire the development of the exhibit by offering their own stories and loaning personal mementoes about the history baseball in and around West Palm Beach — from the games played on “baseball grounds” of Palm Beach by Henry Flagler’s workers, to Negro Leagues, to Little Leagues and, of course, Major League Baseball spring training.

If you’d like to help, call curator Debi Murray at 561-832-4164 ext. 105 or email her at Dmurray@historicalsocietypbc.org.

Home movies, programs, ticket stubs, baseballs caught as souvenirs from home runs and foul balls, even your own version of the famous 1952 photo of baseball legend Connie Mack and 9-year-old Robert Corbitt — the museum wants it all.

Connie+Mack+and+studentMaybe you posed with Hank Aaron one day in the late 1960s before a Braves game at old West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium off Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, which opened in 1962 and is now a Home Depot store after the Braves and Expos left following the 1997 spring season.

Did your dad shoot home movies of pitchers Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson warming up in the early days of their Hall of Fame careers?

Maybe somewhere at your grandfather’s house there’s a ticket stub from March 31, 1927, when Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees lost to the Cincinnati Reds at Wright Field, which would be renamed Connie Mack Field before being razed for the site’s current occupant – a parking garage next to the Kravis Center for the Performing for Arts.

BABE IN WPBMaybe your grandfather and his friends saw Ruth in street clothes later that day downtown. Under the headline that day in the Palm Beach Times, “Yankees invade West Palm Beach to battle Reds”, a story suggests that players on both teams planned to attend a wrestling match on Clematis Street: “Babe Ruth may referee.’’

Or maybe you have a program from the first game at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter on Feb. 28, 1998 — when Mark McGwire christened the new spring training complex with a home run. McGwire would go on to hit 73 home runs, break the old single-seasons record of 61 held since 1961 by Roger Maris, who broke the previous record of 60 held since 1927 by Ruth.

Even if you don’t have artifacts, the museum would still like to hear your stories – from Negro Leagues to the 2003 Little League World Series team from Boynton Beach.

Curators also want to hear from retired baseball players living in the area. Palm Beach’s Jim Palmer, Jupiter’s Mike Schmidt and Palm Beach Gardens’ Tommy Hutton, this means you!

 

Sculpture artist chosen for public art at new West Palm Beach baseball complex

Blessing Hancock, a sculpture artist based in Tucson, Ariz., has been selected to design and install the public art that will be part of the new spring training baseball stadium in West Palm Beach.

Hancock, owner of Skyrim Studio, will have a budget of $800,000 for three areas of the complex, which will be shared by the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals starting in January 2017.

Blessing Hancock, an Arizona-based sculpture artist, proposed these shadow panels and pitch banners at the new West Palm Beach spring training stadium.
Blessing Hancock, an Arizona-based sculpture artist, proposed these shadow panels and pitch banners at the new West Palm Beach spring training stadium.

A selection committee made up of team representatives and Palm Beach County staff chose Hancock late last month from 43 national artists.

Hancock’s proposal included stainless steel shade and shadow panels at the main entrance. From a distance, the shadow screens will resemble a cluster of palm fronds. As visitors get closer, they will see a grid pattern of tiny baseball players in motion, focusing on sequences of hitting, throwing and catching.

The panels will create artistic shadows reflected onto the concourse.

“These sequential chains of motion are captured in silhouette and reflected onto the surrounding surfaces and visitors to the artwork,’’ Hancock wrote in her presentation.

ARTTHer proposal also calls for colorful panels above the stadium’s main concourse with photographs depicting the grips of different pitches such as a fastball and knuckleball. And on the railings of bridges that will connect the stadium to the practice fields, Hancock is proposing panels depicting baseball trivia and memorabilia.

Blessing Hancock (photo courtesy University of Texas at San Antonio)
Blessing Hancock (photo courtesy University of Texas at San Antonio)

The Astros and Nationals will work with Hancock on the final designs, which might not be the same designs that she included in her proposal.

Hancock will start designing the project on Aug. 15. The installation is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2016.

The $135 million stadium, which is being financed in part by $113 million in revenue from a tax on hotels and motels, will be built on 160 acres south of 45th Street between Military Trail and Haverhill Road.

The teams hope to break ground by mid-October.

Nationals, Astros scrap plans for underground parking at new WPB spring training stadium

In a cost-cutting move, the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals have scrapped plans for underground parking at the $160 million spring training stadium they plan to share in West Palm Beach.

Architects have scrapped plans to add a parking garage beneath the stairs and concourse on the west side of the new West Palm Beach baseball stadium.
Architects have scrapped plans to add a parking garage beneath the stairs and concourse on the west side of the new West Palm Beach baseball stadium.

Initial plans called for a parking garage for players and team executives beneath the stadium’s concourse on the west side, which will be elevated with concrete stairs for fans to climb to get to the main gates.

“We were going to park cars underneath there because we had this cover,’’ said architect Morris Stein.

“It turns out it will be more expensive to do that, so we got rid of it.’’

Now, the teams will either use that space for storage or they will simply fill in the space with dirt and post-recycled soil that’s currently on the site.

The 160-acre site south of 45th Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail was used as a landfill from the mid-1950s until about 2000.

The Astros and Nationals hope to break ground by mid-October. They’ll be on a tight schedule to open by January 2017.

The teams are using $113 million in county hotel tax revenue and $50 million in state revenue to help finance the project. They will be responsible for any cost overruns.

 

 

FBI probe of hacking allegations centers on Palm Beach County spring training rivals

The St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros will be linked in Palm Beach County in two years as two of the four Major League Baseball teams that hold spring training within 15 minutes of each other.

But the FBI is already linking the teams for an entirely different reason.1998-Cardinals

The FBI and Justice Department prosecutors are looking into whether front-office officials for the Cardinals hacked into the computer networks of the Astros to steal closely guarded information about player personnel.

Jeff Luhnow
Jeff Luhnow

According to a New York Times story, law enforcement officials believe the hacking was executed by vengeful front-office employees for the Cardinals hoping to wreak havoc on the work of Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manager who had been a successful and polarizing executive with the Cardinals until 2011.

The Astros won’t start training in West Palm Beach until 2017 when the team plans to start sharing a $135 million spring training complex south of 45th Street.

The Cardinals and Miami Marlins share Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.