Nationals may be eyeing Kissimmee and Osceola County for new spring training sites

(Jonathan Newton/WP)

(Jonathan Newton/WP)

The Nationals’ desire to leave the only spring training home they’ve known in Viera and Brevard County is well known. Fed up with the long bus rides from a relatively remote location, the Nationals have been exploring other spring training sites for years. After flirtations with Fort Myers and rumored links to other sites, another possibility has emerged.

Officials from Osceola County, home to Kissimmee and the Houston Astros, are scheduled to hold a public meeting involving the tourism development council on May 30 to discuss spring training. That’s as vague as county officials were in describing the purpose of the meeting later this month. Officials said during a Monday meeting that the county had entered a confidentiality agreement with an interested party and couldn’t yet reveal who it was. But there is reason to believe the Nationals could be a possibility.

The Nationals are believed to have eyed Kissimmee, about 20 miles south of Orlando, among their options for relocation. The Houston Astros currently occupy Kissimmee’s Heritage Park and, according to the Houston Chronicle, are leaning heavily to leave after their 2016 lease expires. In the past, there had been talk about Kissimmee potentially accommodating two teams, to which a county spokesman said Wednesday the board of commissioner didn’t have a public position on.

Heritage Park, part of a multi-purpose complex, opened in 1985 and has undergone renovations since but at 5,300 seats it is among the smallest of spring training complexes in the Grapefruit League. A local TV station reported that the Nationals were indeed in serious negotiations with Osceola County. Representatives from a well-known architecture firm toured Space Coast Stadium during spring training and Nationals Park early this season.

In the eyes of the Nationals, the location is the biggest downside to Viera. (Brevard County officials have tried convincing the Nationals to stay.) The shortest bus trips the Nationals take during Grapefruit League play — to Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista where the Atlanta Braves — require at least an hour and 15 minutes each way. No other team is so distant.

“We’ve said many times they’ve been great hosts to us, and we love the people in the area,” principal owner Mark Lerner said this spring. “But it’s just something that we can’t fix, most likely, without moving.

If Kissimmee were a real possibility as a future site, the Nationals would only partially solve their travel problem. They would be closer to the Braves and Tigers (still about an hour away in Lakeland) and slightly further from the Mets in Port St. Lucie and Cardinals and Marlins in Jupiter.

Fort Myers, on the west coast of Florida, seemed liked an ideal location to solve travel woes but talks slowed between both sides when Lee County officials admitted their budget constraints were limiting how much of the Nationals’ list of renovations and improvements they could meet.

The Nationals’ lease at Space Coast Stadium expires in 2017 but the final bond obligations were paid this spring. A message for Osceola County Manager Don Fisher on Wednesday wasn’t returned and later a county spokesman said Fisher wouldn’t be available to comment on spring training.

During an Osceola County board meeting on Monday, Commission Chairman Frank Attkisson was leery of the private, hurried nature of ongoing talks and wanted public input after the spring training meeting later this month. “My perception is we’re going to be asked to spend 20, 30, 40 million dollars,” he said.

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