11/01/08 7:04 PM ET
Sox to stay put for Spring Training
New, long-term deal with Lee County calls for Fenway-like park
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Since 1993, the club has been in Fort Myers, an area that has evolved into Red Sox Nation South over the last 15 years.
There will be three more seasons at City of Palms Park for the Sox, who will then move in to a new and more expansive stadium in 2012.
The new stadium -- though it doesn't have a precise location yet -- will be in the southern portion of Lee County, and more accessible to airports, shopping and fine dining than City of Palms Park.
"We have a radius," said Red Sox COO Mike Dee. "We've drawn the boundaries. Lee County is going to be going out to interested parties in the next week, I believe, asking for submittals and proposals over the next 30 to 45 days. We'll move quickly on this and identify a list of sites and pare that down to a shorter list of final sites and make a decision. We will have a seat at the table with Lee County in that process and any of the sites that are being considered will fall within those boundaries and parameters that we've identified."
Expect the new park to be a mini-Fenway Park of sorts, complete with a Green Monster and other things that resemble the historic ballyard in Boston's Back Bay that will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2012.
The Red Sox had spent plenty of time in negotiations with Sarasota about moving their operation there, but Lee County made a hard, late push to keep the Red Sox.
The turning point was on Oct. 28, when the Lee County commissioner's office voted 3-1 to build a Spring Training facility for the Red Sox, one that will now keep the club in Lee County for at least 30 years.
"I think the incumbency factor at the end of the day was a major consideration in making this final decision," said Dee. "It was a tough decision. We had great, great opportunity and a great community in Sarasota. We certainly want to thank them for reaching out and pursuing us so aggressively. I think the more we looked around, the more comfortable we became with where we've been and where we are today and we're looking forward to a long-term future in Lee County."
And one big perk of the new stadium -- and one the Red Sox were all but insistent on -- is that it will be in the same complex as all of the practice and Minor League facilities.
During their entire time in Fort Myers, the Red Sox have always opened Spring Training at the Minor League facility and then had to move to City of Palms Park a couple of weeks later when the exhibition season starts. Beginning in 2012, that will no longer be necessary.
So while Dee was the point man in the negotiation process, he said that the baseball operations staff also had plenty of input during the discussions.
"Very, very involved," Dee said. "Spring Training, first and foremost, I've used the analogy in the past, it's like starting your day with a good breakfast. Any good season starts with a great Spring Training experience. Programming this to meet the players' needs and to have a best in class facility for both the spring and player rehabilitation throughout the year was paramount to this deal.
"In the end, what contributed a great deal to our selection was Lee Country being able to combine and consolidate multiple sites into a single site and with the ballpark program that we identified, it's going to be a facility that, from a player perspective, will be second to none in all of Major League Baseball."
Though City of Palms Park has been a nice, fan-friendly venue in its own right, Dee vowed that fans would be even more wowed by what is in store going forward.
"Our top-line goal is to create the best Spring Training environment and experience in all of Major League Baseball," said Dee.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.