Newness In The Air At Astros West Palm Beach Complex

Newness In The Air At Astros West Palm Beach Complex

A free golf-cart ride. Swaying palm trees and a constant ocean breeze. Singing birds, perfect mid-February sunshine, and a huge Astros "H" that lights up at night.

This isn't the old Kissimmee, Fla., that you believers in the orange and blue knew so well for so long. And this definitely isn't Osceola County Stadium.

We're about to spend the next eight months - nine, if we're lucky - discovering whether the 2017 Astros can last until baseball's real magic begins. Monday was all about brand-new beginnings.

Remember that feeling you got as a kid when you walked around school the day before classes started, checking out absolutely everything and peeking in every mysterious window? That was how the Astros' new world in West Palm started. And the Jim Crane-Jeff Luhnow Stros finally have a spring training complex to match the vision of the team's new era.

I keep saying "new" because it all is. Literally. So new, in fact, that my first trip to a two-team facility officially dubbed The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches - sadly, there's no beach, but Bryce Harper will flex and fluff up his hair next door to Jose Altuve and Co. all spring - felt like trying to crash a bigwigs party at nearby Mar-a-Lago.

Eavesdropping on the President responding to a North Korea missile test probably would have been easier.

There were protective security guards at every entrance. There were far more construction workers than guards. And my best initial sight of the huge "H" was clouded by a cement mixer, pickup trucks, hard hats and new dirt.

Dropping the Chronicle's name got me farther than most. I snapped a few quick pics. Then everyone kept telling me I couldn't go anywhere else and had to come back later.

A golf cart arrived to save the day.

Marcel Braithwaite, Astros senior vice president of business operations, handled the wheel and pressed the pedal.

Waving palms flew by. Birds circled and sang. The orange-and-white "H" marquee grew even larger up close - imagine the bulls statue outside NRG Stadium, but bigger and with a better shot at winning a championship - and then Braithwaite started opening every door.

To quote galactic legend Darth Vader: "Impressive. Most impressive."

One practice field mirrors the exact dimensions of Minute Maid Park. As Braithwaite swung his cart around, he calmly pointed out the Stros' new spring training version of the Crawford Boxes. All those summer blasts in downtown Houston can now be teased in February in Florida.

The walls, paint and plastic-covered HDTVs - 10 of them in the Astros' super-comfy clubhouse, each 70 inches across - made it all look, smell and feel like a just-built house straight out of the box. And when Luhnow walked up the steps and headed to his new office just as the tour was concluding, it was clear the Astros' new spring home was opening just in time.

"What's not to be excited about?" Braithwaite said. "The team is exciting. … It's about the ownership. Jim (Crane) believes in doing it first-class and making sure that we can be competitive for a long time with the right tools."

The Astros' projected opening-day payroll of $123 million is finally beginning to match the athletic promise on the field. Five years after Crane turned the keys over to Luhnow to reignite a broken organization from top to bottom, the franchise has its best roster since its lone World Series appearance in 2005 and a state-of-the-art facility built for an annual winner.

"There's a lot of pride when the star goes up at the front," Braithwaite said. "When that was lit up at night and it reflected back on the lake, we took a couple pictures, and we were like, 'OK. It's real. This is home.' "

Finishing touches

Before some smart aleck emails that the Astros' new spring home was built on a trash dump - officially, it was - I'll admit that all the hardhats and hurried workers are here for a reason. This place is still a work in progress, and the stadium is being readied for a Feb. 28 opener against friendly neighbor Washington, not a few inquiring eyes peeking around the day before pitchers and catchers were to report.

New things were still in boxes, some cords hadn't been connected, and manager A.J. Hinch was dreaming up where he wanted stuff on a dry-erase board. The front-gate sign that read "Construction Area KEEP OUT" was there for a reason.

But then Dallas Keuchel peeked through a weight-room window and jokingly flexed for a few reporters he hadn't seen in a while. The humongous Astros logo hanging above the clubhouse matched the oversized one in the lobby and the marquee symbol that shines when the sun goes down. Hinch cracked one-liners as pitching coach Brent Strom squinted at a computer.

And when Keuchel kicked around new dirt, found his normal spot on the mound and started firing away, that old famous sound was back.

Pop.

Pop.

Crack.

The palms swayed. The sun sparkled on the lake. It was almost time to light up the Astros' new H.


Gavin Lumb Headshot
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Phone: 561-543-0750
Dated: February 14th 2017
Views: 305
About Gavin: Gavin is a licensed Florida Real Estate professional that has been involved in the Florida housing m...

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