South Florida may steal Blue Jays

Palm Beach Gardens is likely choice

DUNEDIN, Fla. - Wearing her Dunedin Blue Jays t-shirt and blasting a blue vuvuzela, Debra Martin is a die-hard minor league baseball fan.  And her hometown team is her pride and joy.

"If they didn't have the ballpark here and all the games, it would be a big loss for the city of Dunedin," Martin said.  "I think they should try everything in their power to keep in here."

The city may have an uphill battle.  A bill moving through Florida's legislature would provide $100 million to pro baseball teams that keep their teams in the state.  The money would help with stadium and facilities improvements.  Teams that agree to combine their games into one stadium could receive $50 million over 37 years, or $20 million for single teams.

Florida's Grapefruit League has lost six teams to Arizona's Cactus League since 1998.

The Houston Astros, which play in Kissimmee in Osceola County, have hired the same lobbyist in Tallahassee as Toronto.  One proposal is to build a new facility for both teams in Palm Beach Gardens, effectively ending the Blue Jays' 40-year run in Dunedin in 2016.

"It was a big draw for us.  It got our tourist dollars.  So it would be the city's loss if they left," said Ryan Glushkoff, a Canadian tourist who specifically came to see the Blue Jays play in Dunedin.  

"I grew up in Toronto, so I've known the Jays have been in Dunedin my whole life," Glushkoff said.

Dunedin's mayor insisted that negotiations with the team and his city are still underway.  But Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, indicated that the two-team move to Palm Beach Gardens was a likely outcome.

Lawmakers will finalize their budget next week, so a decision on baseball spending will be resolved in the coming days.

For Nancy Davison, a season ticket holder for the Dunedin Blue Jays and a member of boosters club, losing the team to South Florida would be a major disappointment.  She and her husband were considering a move from Tampa so they could have better access to the games.

"We were going to look for a house nearby," she said.  "Now we're not."

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