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Updated: March 4th, 2013 10:04am
Reusse's Reality from Florida: Grapefruit vs. Cactus

Reusse's Reality from Florida: Grapefruit vs. Cactus

by Patrick Reusse
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JUPITER, FLA. _ The two older gents in charge of the parking lot for team personnel and media at Roger Dean Stadium were bundled against the cold at 9:45 a.m. on Monday.

"One more day of this,'' one fellow said. "Then, we're back to being Florida.''

The cold might be providing a tune-up for the Twins who will open the 2013 schedule at Target Field on April 1. A good share of the minor leaguers in attendance will be with Rochester, and the Red Wings open April 4 at Buffalo _ so those lads might as well also sample the cold.

This was the second Twins' trip across the slow-moving roads through the middle of Florida in four days. They were here to play the Miami Marlins, baseball's most-unloved team on Friday, and back to play the St. Louis Cardinals, perhaps the most-beloved, on Monday.

These three-hour journeys that put the traveling squad on buses shortly after dawn are a reminder as to why the number of teams training in Arizona has increased from eight to 15 over the past couple of decades.

Back when, the Padres trained in distant Yuma, the Indians were in Tucson, and the Angels spent the second half of spring training in Palm Springs. Arizona was the pain in the rear end for travel, but now there are 15 teams in Phoenix and its suburbs, and time wasted on busses is minimal.

Jupiter has the only two-team complex in Florida with the Cardinals and the Marlins. They both have franchises in the Class A Florida State League, meaning Roger Dean Stadium has a game most every day in the summer as well as in the spring.

The leases for the two teams expire late in this decade. There hasn't been the traditional outcry for improvements from the tenants, as much as concern over the lack of teams here on the East Coast.

The Mets are located a half-hour north of Jupiter in Port St. Lucie, and the Washington Nationals are 75 minutes north in Viera. That's basically Melbourne, once the location of the Twins' minor league complex.

That was also where Calvin Griffith had a condominium, with a deck on the Atlantic and a view of space shuttle launches up the coast in Cape Canaveral. On Jan. 28, 1986, Calvin walked out to see a launch of the Challenger, saw the plumes, thought everything looked good, and went inside to make himself a sandwich.

A couple of minutes later, a family member called and said, "Calvin, did you see it, did you see it?''

"Yes, sir,'' Calvin said. "It was beautiful.''

Told the Challenger had exploded, Calvin expressed his regrets over the fate of the crew, and added, "I guess I missed some goll' darn history.''

As for spring training on Florida's East Coast, the Nationals were frustrated enough with the remote location in Viera/Melbourne that they were discussing a move to Fort Myers to occupy City o' Palms Park and a minor league complex _ both formerly occupied by the Red Sox.

Lee County was involved in those negotiations. It fell through because the county was tapped out from building the new stadium and complex for the Red Sox, and the need to spend big money on improvements for the Twins.

There has been hope that St. Lucie County and the state of Florida would share the funding for a two-team complex at Port St. Lucie and another team could be attracted to the East Coast.

That doesn't seem likely, with the other 11 teams mostly happy with their deals in and around Orlando, or up and down the West Coast from Dunedin to Fort Myers. And the odds of luring a team back from Arizona to Florida ... once a ballclub gets out there, they seem happy as clams.

I was in Arizona doing some spring training stories and columns in 1999, and had dinner with Andy MacPhail, then running the Cubs.

The kumbaya with the baseball man that I always referred to as "Young Andrew'' ended halfway through dinner when he received a call on one of those oversized cell phones and was told this:

"Kerry Wood has a torn ligament in his elbow and is going to require Tommy John surgery.''

Before that, MacPhail was talking about spring training geography. He was involved when the Twins made the grand move from Orlando to Fort Myers in 1991, and now was with the Cubs at their complex in Mesa.

"Fort Myers has been great for the Twins, but spring training in Arizona ... the weather is better, the travel is much better,'' MacPhail said. "You're going to see more teams moving out there.''

When the Dodgers vacated Vero Beach, here on the East Coast, in 2009 after a half-century in Dodgertown, these things were proved:

One, MacPhail knew of what he spoke, and two, convenience and sprawling complexes are more important to baseball teams than tradition.

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He co-hosts SportsTalk from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and hosts The Ride with Reusse from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. He also co-hosts "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Patrick | @1500ESPN_reusse | The Ride with Reusse