CLEARWATER – Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) announced Feb. 27 that more money might be coming to support spring training in Florida.
Latvala said Gov. Rick Scott had revised his Legislative Budget Request for 2013 to include $5 million in recurring funds from the State Economic Enhancement and Development Trust Fund for Major League Baseball spring training.
Officials are concerned that a growing number of MLB teams are moving to spring break training facilities outside the state. Fifteen years ago, every MLB team held its training in Florida, Latvala said. This year, for the first time, less than 50 percent of MLB teams are spring training in Florida.
“We must reverse this trend, ” Latvala said in a press release. “Spring training programs attracted roughly 1.6 million people to baseball facilities in Florida last year, 62 percent of which were tourists from other states. Clearly these programs are worth nurturing because of the economic impact they have on our state.”
In 2000, Latvala sponsored the first successful legislation to provide state economic assistance to keep MLB teams training in Florida cities. Leases for three of the teams’ facilities assisted by that legislation expire in March 2016. Those facilities are located in Dunedin, Lakeland and Kissimmee.
“Spring training programs in Florida are a proven economic driver and wise investment of our state’s resources,” Latvala said. “Spending $5 million to enhance these programs will generate about $750 million additional dollars for our state’s economy.”
Gov. Scott announced his initiative to keep Florida No. 1 in spring training Feb. 27 while working at the Detroit Tigers Baseball team facilities in Lakeland.
“My top priority is growing jobs for Florida families – and spring training has provided families in Florida with countless job opportunities,” Scott said in a press release. “Florida remains the No. 1 destination for spring training and that is why we will work to provide $5 million annually to only be used for spring training facilities. We must protect and enhance this vital business for Florida families.”
Under the new initiative, local governments would be required to provide a 50 percent match of project costs for renovations to spring training facilities. Fifteen teams currently use facilities in Florida for spring training.
“Spring training pays huge dividends for our communities,” Latvala said. “The more we support baseball in Florida, the more opportunities will be expanded for our residents. This $5 million, recurring investment by Gov. Scott will support jobs across our state.”
Statistics show that 1.5 million people attend spring training games each year, resulting in $750 million in revenue for the state.
Two Major League teams come to Pinellas County each year for spring training. Fans can catch the Philadelphia Phillies in action at Bright House field in Clearwater. The Toronto Blue Jays play pre-season games at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin.
Pinellas County’s home team, the Tampa Bay Rays, holds spring training in Port Charlotte. The New York Yankees are spring training in Tampa.
The history of spring training in central Florida started in October 1908 with a single exhibition game between the Cincinnati Reds and the semi-pro St. Petersburg Saints, according to the website www.floridagrapefruitleague.com. In February 1913, the Chicago Cubs arrived in Tampa for the region's first spring training.
Pinellas County gained its reputation as a worthy spot for spring training in 1915, the first year the Philadelphia Phillies used Sunshine Park as it training facility. The team won 14 of 15 games that year and captured the National League pennant.
Baseball teams have been spring training in St. Petersburg and Tampa for 87 years, longer than any other location in Florida. Teams have been training in Clearwater for 76 years.