Scott Wants $5 Million For Cities With Spring Training Facilities

Governor pledges to set aside $5 million each year for spring training teams in Fla.


Florida Gov. Rick Scott, left, rakes a field with grounds crew workers Jeff Haag, center, and Anthony Melton, right, during a work day before a baseball spring training exhibition game between the Detroit Tigers and the Atlanta Braves, Wednesday in Lakeland. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 2:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 2:28 p.m.

LAKELAND | Only the governor could water a pitcher's mound then pledge that he wants to set aside $5 million of state funds each year for spring training teams in Florida.

"Spring training is very important to Florida," Scott said during a news conference in the middle of his workday.

Wednesday was Scott's 15th ‘‘Let's Get to Work'' day since he took office in 2010. Although the game between Detroit and Atlanta didn't begin until 1:05 p.m., Scott started his day at 9:15 a.m.

There was a high of 20 spring training teams based in Florida in 1998, but since then five left for Arizona.

The $5 million Scott pledged would be used for cities and counties that need upgraded facilities to help keep their teams.

The pledge comes at a time when the city and Detroit are working on an estimated $20 million to $30 million expansion at Joker Marchant Stadium. The Tigers have trained in Lakeland for 77 years.

State lawmakers will have to approve Scott's request in the coming weeks. Cities and counties would be required to contribute matching funds. If it is approved, the money would become available July 1. The $5 million would be a recurring fund that could accumulate within the state.

Bill Tinsley, the city's liaison to the Detroit Tigers, said the money will be a big help.

Funding from the state is capped at $20 million, Tinsley said.

Tinsley said the state contributed $7 million for renovations in 2001 that included more seats, wider aisles, new restrooms, the berm (a slope beyond the fence in left field), a new concession courtyard, and seating for the handicapped. The facility was built in 1966.

Tinsley has said he wants to obtain funding for renovations this year. Construction could begin in 2014. The city's contract with the Tigers ends in 2016. Two other teams, the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin and the Houston Astros in Kissimmee, also have contracts up in 2016.

Scott made the announcement Wednesday before the game, standing next to Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields, state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and city officials including City Manager Doug Thomas.

Fields said it was an important step by the state.

"It sends a message that the state is onboard," Fields said.

Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said in a prepared statement that spring training attracts tourists to Florida and provides jobs.

"I welcome Governor Scott's announcement in Lakeland, which has the longest standing spring training relationship in Major League Baseball," McKeel said.

Before the news conference, Scott worked with the grounds crew on the main field then on a couple of fields behind the stadium.

As Scott toiled, the Detroit Tigers worked out.

Wearing a U.S. Navy hat, a button-down shirt and running shoes, Scott first helped water and rake the dirt on the basepath. At one point, he rolled up his sleeves to pour extra sand on to the pitcher's mound so players wouldn't slip.

Afterward, Scott worked in the parking lot, sold programs, and sold strawberry shortcake inside the stadium.

Next, he marked home plate and 90 feet of chalk between third base and home plate with a machine that dispensed the chalk.

"He's doing good for the first time," said Charlie Taylor, who oversees the grounds crew on the minor league fields. "Not a lot of governors get their hands dirty like that."

‘‘You'll let me know when I mess up," Scott said as he chalked home plate. "I want to succeed at what I do."

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