BRADENTON, FLA. – Normally, I am a staunch opponent of using taxpayers’ dollars to subsidize the extravagant appetites of wealthy professional sports franchises.
But now we’re talking about somebody else’s tax dollars. So, by all means, yes, yes, proceed with plans to move the Braves from their Disney faux spring ballpark to some planned community on Florida’s west coast in Sarasota County. Plunk it right down between the water aerobics class and the arts and crafts room and let’s call it a done deal.
The Braves certainly didn’t need to move their permanent headquarters from Turner Field to Cobb County – where my property tax bill is addressed. But the plan to bug out of Orlando after 20 years for somewhere more suitable seems perfectly rational. (The Sarasota plan is one of a couple being floated now, the one seemingly with the most legs).
Maybe I feel more of a pull in this direction on this Monday, with the Braves visiting the antithesis of everything Disney on their road trip to the Pittsburgh Pirates and the quaintest outpost of the Grapefruit League.
The Pirates McKechnie Field is a real ballpark in a real neighborhood – there is a food bank across the street – where the real business of preparing for a season takes place without a single cartoon character in sight.
The place dates back to 1923, and despite the various modernizations that have taken place since, it has not lost the feel of authenticity. It is not the biggest park around (capacity 6,600) and the parking is a bit of a joke, but convenience in this case is the enemy of ambience. The Pirates like it enough to have signed a lease through 2037.
Of course, if the Braves move just down the road, builders won’t be able to replicate the charms of McKechnie. But any new ballyard figures to be an improvement over the contrivances of baseball in a theme park.
The Braves have been at Disney since 1997, where they have constructed exactly one team good enough to get to World Series and zero teams that have won a playoff series since 2001. Now there is plenty of blame to go around for this lack of October success, but if it suits my argument, I’ll place a very small share on the setting of March. Hey, the Braves got lost in the fantasy of their surroundings (OK, it's a real reach).
It’s a personal theory that the Braves lose at least five games in the standings while stalled in traffic on I-4 during the spring.
As the Braves lease with Disney is set to expire next year, the move to another spring locale seems inevitable. The new energy of a change in training sites won’t hurt. A spot on the map more accessible to other camps is an absolute necessity. And, perhaps, having a set-up where weight training equipment won’t overflow into a dreary hallway (as at Disney) might pick up the lads’ spirits.
It is with great excitement we greet the buzz of a new place to play make-believe baseball.
Thank you in advance, Florida taxpayers, both residents and visitors.