Adam Eaton had been a National for about three days when he acknowledged the running spring training joke.
Someone repeated the first question Eaton had asked after being traded to the Nationals: Where would spring training for his new team be? A few people joked that they were wondering that, too.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that, too,” Eaton chuckled, already in on the running joke. The Nationals and Astros are rushing to complete their new spring training home in time to host spring training 2017. Those familiar with the situation on the Nationals’ side acknowledge the hurry, but maintain that the facility will be ready enough when pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 14.
Last week, while on vacation in the area, I made an informal expedition to the facility on Haverhill Road in West Palm Beach. It currently looks something like an ant hill, with workers bustling about the walled facility. As of the middle of last summer, plumbing and electricity had long since been installed. Level fields sit where a pile of debris stood seven months ago. The basis of a stadium stands, but from afar, a bare concrete, still-growing exterior betrays the work left to be done. Lights are up and some seats are installed, according to tweets from the team’s official account. But the stadium, which will host its first game Feb. 28, looked more like a concrete shell than finished product.
Still, my main takeaway from a few loops of the facility’s walled perimeter is this: the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches has made significant and promising strides since I last checked on it late last season. Practice fields are rolled and sodded, new backstops and tall netting to keep balls from going into the surrounding neighborhoods are up and ready. The entrance to the facility — a road that drives up to the stadium and splits the Astros’ side from the Nationals’ side — is now lined with palm trees, as are the outskirts of the facility. As of last week, the non-stadium components of the facility looked nearly ready for action. The stadium itself, at least from afar, appears as if it will require a push.
Such is the sentiment from people familiar with the progress of the facility: It might not be entirely finished by the beginning of spring training, but it will be finished enough. One person suggested that the minor league facilities might not be ready as soon as mid-February. Minor league players generally report a few weeks later than the major league players. The Nationals usually begin their early minor league camp around the very beginning of March.
Regardless, the Nationals will begin selling single-game tickets on Jan. 14, and maintain that the stadium will be ready in time to host home games for both teams. Jokes like Eaton’s aside, whatever concerns linger about the state of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches do not seem substantial enough to prevent the Nationals and Astros from training there this spring.
The Nationals plan to spend their spring training at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, not in Viera, though they will not be quite as far away from their past as they thought: A deep fly ball (or so) down the road from the new site lies a residential complex called Viera of the Palm Beaches.