LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Pretty much any day the Braves are at their spring home, those with access to the bowels of Champion Stadium are apt to run across a most non-major-league sight.
In a narrow hallway adjacent to the Braves' clubhouse, cluttered with a collection of workout equipment arranged in the haphazard fashion of a garage sale, there’ll be some professional ballplayer who couldn’t fit in the cramped main weight room working on his core or his quads.
The setting suggests Class AA high school more than National League East. Certain wise guys have walked past some of the exercise equipment and joked that Warren Spahn must have really worn out a couple of those pieces.
The underbelly of the Disney complex never has reflected the glittering exterior. As with most theme parks, it’s always best to not look too closely beneath the facade in order to maintain the fantasy.
That scene always comes to mind whenever talk heats up about the Braves moving out of here for something newer and nearer to Florida’s other spring teams. Such talk seems to have turned into a probability. The southwest Florida community of North Port in Sarasota County has thrown enough public money (an estimated $40 million in taxpayer dollars) at the team to get very near a deal. Although there remains a small chance for fiscal caution to kick in.
Now, I loathe the idea of corporate welfare for professional franchises. I applauded Collier County, Fla., when in December it rejected the notion of building the Braves a new complex in which they could sun themselves for a few weeks, and thought that commission a fine steward of the public treasury.
At the same time, when the Braves do relocate, there should be next to no tears shed for what they leave behind. All sentiment remained in West Palm Beach in 1997 when the Braves, dazzled by Disney's charms, moved from their original spring headquarters.
Unless the team really grows up quickly and does something phenomenal in the next two seasons, Disney can’t claim any part of a deep Braves legacy. Since moving here in ’98, the team has been to one World Series (getting swept by the Yankees in 1999), and has built a 3-11 record in postseason series. Little magic from the nearby Magic Kingdom has rubbed off. Maybe a change of scenery will even do the team some good.
The day inevitably will arrive when the Braves are the main event in their spring neighborhood, when it is all about the ballpark and not the theme park. Back here, the teacups will keep spinning and the monorail will keep humming. And at the Braves' new spring home, there is bound to be significantly less clutter in the hallways. All all parties move on with no regret.