Major Loss: Baseball teams leave Brevard


Evan Cooper

Practicing at Space Coast Stadium in April, Washington Nationals players Stephen Strasburg and Jonathan Palpebon gear up for the season.

Evan Cooper, Staff Writer

Big-time sports have left the county.

The recently concluded spring training season was the last for the Washington Nationals — or any Major League Baseball team — in Brevard. Next year, the Nationals will relocate to West Palm, sharing a new stadium with the Houston Astros, will move from their Kissimmee spring-training home. Since it opened in 1994, two teams have held their spring training at Space Coast Stadium: the Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals. The Nationals moved into Space Coast Stadium in 2003 as the Expos, who later relocated their franchise to Washington D.C.

Not only have the Nationals been a substantial economic asset for Brevard County, but also a special experience for the fans.

For many fans in Brevard County, there is no other opportunity to see a professional baseball team play. The closest Major League team to Brevard during the regular season is nearly three hours away in St. Petersburg.

“I love watching professional baseball,” Killian Thrush said. “But besides the Nationals, other teams are too far away.”

Spring Training is also a chance for fans to peek behind the scenes of professional baseball. Space Coast Stadium has been one of the most fan-friendly spring-training stadiums, as there is a pit for spectators to get close to the field before the games, and the practice fields are completely open for fans. Before the spring-training games start, fans could attend the Nationals’ practices for free. Not only could they get up close and personal with the professional athletes, but they also can try to get autographs. During spring training, the players are much more relaxed, however once the regular season starts, players do not interact with fans as much.

“I always try to get autographs,“ eighth-grader Josh Freeman said. “It is so cool to get so close to the professional baseball players.“

Throughout February and March, thousands of fans — including many from the D.C. area — visited Brevard County to watch the Nationals play, pumping up the local economy by visiting attractions, hotels and restaurants.

The Nationals are moving to West Palm for many reasons. They will be in a new stadium, as well as be closer to other Cactus League teams which have migrated to South Florida during recent decades.

“Traveling will be so much better,” nine-year MLB veteran and Nationals shortstop Brendan Ryan said. “A lot of guys have houses down there, so they can stay in their own beds more.”

The Nationals’ departure also means the loss of another professional baseball team in Brevard County: the Brevard County Manatees, the single A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Throughout the years, the Manatees have produced a lot of major-league talent, including  Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League MVP and 2003 World Series MVP Josh Beckett.   

The Manatees cannot afford the upkeep of the stadium without the Nationals, who pay for the improvements for the stadium each year.  According to Rick Neale, a reporter for “Florida Today,” from 1997 to 2011, the county spent $7.8 million on improvements alone.

Plans for the stadium after the teams leave are for it to become the home for high-school baseball travel team tournaments, as well as special events.

The Brevard County sports scene — and economy — may never be the same.