Florida Fights to Keep Grapefruit LeagueMarch 10, 2010 - 7:33 PM | by: Serafin Gomez
FORT MYERS, Fla- Batting practice. The Grapefruit League. A massive Red Sox hitter drills a hard line drive into right field, it skips off the perfectly-manicured grass like a stone off a pond, then smacks right into the glove of an awaiting outfielder.
Instead of throwing it back to his cut-off man in the infield, the right fielder glances over this left shoulder. Just a couple feet away, tourists in Dustin Pedroia jerseys,separated by a knee-high wall, wave at him frantically.
” Throw it to me !” A woman, covered from cap to sandals in red and blue, yells in a full-on New England accent. ” Please, we’re from Boston!’
She is not alone. Many of the 8,100 in the sell-out crowd today share the same regional dialect, and rabid affinity for their power-house team that has won two World Series since 2004. Even though Tampa Bay is just up the coast, few Rays fans are here to watch the two teams play each other today. But most Floridians don’t mind; Red Sox fans visiting Florida means a much needed influx of money in the deflated local economy, which has been devastated by the real estate implosion.
“Spring training alone produces $750 million dollars of economic impact every Spring in Florida, ” Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) told Fox in a sit down interview, pointing to the millions of fans that travel to the state each Spring .” That’s actually over 9,000 jobs direct and indirect that come into the Sunshine State.”
However, in recent years many communities here have been fending off attempts by Arizona to attract MLB teams to their state and the Cactus League.With an eye on Arizona ,Florida lawmakers have made efforts to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on incentives, like new stadiums and tax breaks that will help retain teams.
Critics say the state, which currently has a $3 billion budget deficit, shouldn’t use public money to bankroll big time sports franchises.
“I have to think that that our politicians aren’t listening to the academics, ” Dr. Philip Porters says. Porter an Economics professor at the University of South Florida does not believe that the teams show much of an long term economic impact for Florida.
” Either the numbers are very very small – or the positive impact of the numbers is offset by the negative impact of the taxes so that in the end when we look to see what happens in the community there is no change, ” Porter adds. ” $700 million dollars is quite a bit, if it happened we ought to be able to see it.”
But for some Sox fans, a yearly trip to Spring training would not be the same, if not in the Sunshine state.
” We come down here every year, and buy tickets for two or three games, ” said Kim Horstman from Boothbay Harbor, Maine, who has been visiting Florida for years. ” It is great fun, and it is an easy park to get to.”
And ,hypothetically speaking, if their team ever joined the Cactus League would they travel out West?
” No,” Horstman said, shaking her head. ” We don’t have a condo in Arizona.”
Red Sox fans do not have to worry about that happening anytime soon. Elected officials in Lee County, Florida, where Fort Myers is located, agreed recently to pay for a multi-million ball park that will keep the team in town. The design includes it’s own “Green Monster”-type left field, like Fenway Park, the Sox’ home stadium in Boston.