DUNEDIN, Fla. — Uncertainty continues to climb over the start of spring training as Major League Baseball remains in a lockout. Fans and local business owners are hoping for a resolution soon in order to reap the benefits of games in the Tampa Bay area.
Frank Rocco isn’t just a Phillies super fan, but instead, some might call him an unofficial mascot. He’s ready for the crack of the bats signaling a new season.
“Spring training, everything starts out new each year,” said Rocco, the creator of Phillies Fans of Spring Training. “Everybody’s batting and hitting 0.00, and it’s a fantastic experience. You never know what’s going to happen.”
BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater is the home of Phillies spring training. West Central Florida alone has eight of the 15 teams that make up the Florida Grapefruit League.
“The first game is February 26, and then they’re supposed to open up in Philly on March 31. Does that look good? No way,” said Rocco.
Uncertainty is growing over an on-time start to spring training. Major League Baseball remains in a lockout, with pitchers and catchers set to report this week and Cactus and Grapefruit League games to officially start Saturday, February 26.
“The City of Lakeland, we have the longest-running relationship with Major League Baseball,” said Kevin Cook, the Director of Communications with the City of Lakeland. “Spring training’s been here for a long, long time.”
Lakeland is the home of the Detroit Tigers spring training. The city said spring training has an estimated economic impact of $55 million on the local Lakeland economy.
“That’s just not what takes place around the stadium, but that’s also the trickle-down into bars, restaurants, rental car facilities, things of that nature,” said Cook. “That’s really big, and those businesses that count on those dollars. It’s going to definitely affect their pocketbook.”
The city explained they’re hopeful the two sides come to an agreement in the very near future.
“We’ve been told to just business as usual, stay on track, so our facility will be ready when Major League Baseball decides to have spring training,” said Cook.
Spring training’s impact on the Tampa Bay area is far-reaching. Home Plate, a restaurant in Dunedin, is just steps away from TD Ballpark, the spring training home of the Toronto Blue Jays. On game days, Ralph Kleinchrod, the restaurant’s owner, said you’ll see a sea of blue.
“If the games don’t happen this year, it’s not good for us. It’s not good for the city. [If] it’s coming later, it’s delayed, it’s okay, it’s not a big problem if they are here, but if they stopped completely, this is really bad for everybody here,” said Kleinchrod.
Still, fans remain ready and hopeful they’ll hear "play ball" sometime soon.
“The spring training games here in Dunedin, over in Tampa, and here in Clearwater, they’re just losing millions and millions of dollars,” said Rocco. “It’s a shame. It’s really a shame.”