FORT MYERS, FLA. - The Kansas City Royals left Fort Myers after spring training in 1987 and moved 130 miles north to Haines City, where a new stadium and facility awaited at an amusement park billed as Boardwalk and Baseball. Circus World had failed at the same site, and B&B lasted only until January 1990, and the Royals remained stuck in the nothingness until their lease expired in 2002.
As the Royals were arriving in central Florida in 1988, the Twins were finding no appetite in Orlando to provide a modern facility to replace ancient Tinker Field. There was also an adjacent diamond, which players referred to as “Iwo” — as in Iwo Jima — due to its infield surface.
Twins owner Carl Pohlad ordered team President Jerry Bell to find another option for spring training. T. Geron was able to cut a deal with Lee County to bring the Twins to the Fort Myers countryside for 1991.
A World Series title followed that October, and there have been four more championships for a team going through its preseason exercises in Fort Myers.
Those have gone to the Boston Red Sox, and all since 2004, when the beloved Beantowners ended a troublesome 86-year, post-Babe Ruth slump for World Series winners.
The Red Sox first made their deal with the city of Fort Myers for 1993, and moved into City of Palms Park, basically in a neighborhood, with the minor league facilities 2½ miles away.
Boston got rather uppity after winning the 2004 World Series and then repeating three years later, and started demanding a new stadium with an adjacent minor league facility — as had the Twins — or they would take off for a new locale.
The city couldn’t handle the original Boston deal financially and Lee County had assumed the lease. The county made a deal that moved the Red Sox to a big hunk of land north of the airport beginning in 2012. The entrance for the Bosox’ JetBlue Park is officially 5.7 miles east of the entrance to the Twins’ Hammond Stadium.
The New Englanders that arrive here will start the traditional Red Sox sellouts when the Yankees visit for the Grapefruit League opener on Feb. 23. And, for the second time, the fans will arrive at “Fenway South” basking in a World Series title; the Red Sox won in 2013, which was nice, and they won again last season, which was overwhelming.
The 2018 Red Sox did it with a 108-54 record (.667) and then an 11-3 run through the postseason, starting with a 3-1 elimination of the Yankees.
On Wednesday, I was among 50 reporters and camera people for second-year manager Alex Cora’s kickoff media session. There was a theme established that has the potential to carry through Florida preparations:
Can the Red Sox repeat?
In case you forgot, Alex, no team has done that since the Yankees won three in a row (1998-2000). How important is it, Alex, to turn the page on last season?
Cora offered a quizzical look and said: “Do we really want to turn the page? I want to remember what we did last year, and how we played to do that.”
Darn good idea, Alex.
Back in 1993, the Twins immediately had second-class status to the devoted Red Sox fandom. It didn’t help that ’93 also was the jumping-off point for the Twins putting together eight straight losing seasons.
The difference in loyalty became more obvious once the Red Sox took up February/March lodging on the same jammed east-west artery, Daniels Parkway.
Not that the Twins are complaining. They received close to $50 million from Lee County to improve their facility, in response to the Red Sox getting $60 million for construction and $20 million worth of land for their new digs.
Now, in 2019, both ballparks are beautiful; gameday traffic is impossible in either direction; and second class would be a generous assessment of the Twins’ loyalty status here in the Fort.
There might be a good reason when considering this: Since breaking ground at JetBlue in 2011, the Red Sox have won two World Series, and in those same eight seasons, the Twins are 156 games under .500, and 0-1 in the postseason.
Cora actually tries to answer when asked media questions, unlike his Boston predecessor, John Farrell, but he also can fall back to managerial clichés. He concluded a tribute to his loaded roster by adding, “There’s always room for improvement.”
A reporter in the front row said: “Like what?”
Cora grinned, and 10 seconds later, the manager came up with a couple of things that he knew were hardly worth mentioning.
The 2019 Red Sox need one thing: health.
Five-point-seven miles to the west, new Twins manager Rocco Baldelli’s answer to “like what?” is easier to find: pitching, hitting and, yeah, tighten up the fielding.