Tribe muses moving spring home

Tribe muses moving spring home

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- It's become clockwork.

Each year about this time, Indians players report to camp, unpack their bags and hit the fields here at the Chain of Lakes complex. And then, inevitably, the question arises.

When will the Tribe begin reporting somewhere new?

"It's an annual rite of spring for us to chat about our future [Spring Training] home," said Bob DiBiasio, the Indians vice president of public relations. "We'll be here in '07. To look beyond that, we don't know."

Apopka and Cape Coral are the latest Florida cities to express interest in possibly building a new training facility for the Indians. But the spate of hurricanes that have hit the state in recent years have made funding a major roadblock.

Arizona would love to have the Indians. But the state wants a pair of teams, and the Indians are the only Florida team in a hurry to move.

The Indians and the city of Winter Haven have had a tenuous relationship for years.

The city wants to develop the property along Lake Lulu, which sits adjacent to the Tribe's current training site. The Indians want updated and more spacious facilities, most notably the Major and Minor League clubhouses and the strength and conditioning room.

"We need to upgrade those," DiBiasio said. "We have the smallest, oldest stadium [in Chain of Lakes Park, which was built in the 1960s], but that's not a huge negative, because it's a charming place. The facility is the real issue."

Apopka would need to build the Indians a stadium and training grounds. Cape Coral is just across the Caloosahatchee River from Fort Myers, where the Red Sox and Twins train. Conceivably, the Indians could have a facility built in Cape Coral and share a stadium for home Grapefruit League games with Minnesota or Boston.

And, of course, the possibility remains that the Indians could stay in Winter Haven, if improvements are made to the current facilities.

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Manager Eric Wedge said he has found the Chain of Lakes complex "workable."

"The proximity of the Minor League clubhouse and the big league clubhouse has worked out fine for us," he said.

Mention the prospect of staying here much longer to the players, and you're likely to get some rolled eyes.

"I don't necessarily think it holds us back," third baseman Aaron Boone said. "But it's not one of the nicer [facilities] around now. There's not a lot to do in the area, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But every [Grapefruit League] game we play, it's a ways to get there. We're kind of off the beaten path. I think the closest games we play are in Kissimmee, and it's 40 minutes away."

The Indians first came to Winter Haven in 1993, after their new facility in Homestead, Fla., was wiped out by Hurricane Andrew.

After the first season at Chain of Lakes, the Indians signed a 10-year lease to stay here. They are in the third year of a five-year extension on that lease, but both sides have an agreement that a move can be made at any time.

"There's a basic understanding that we can revisit this thing year to year," DiBiasio said. "We need to figure this thing out."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.