Florida businesses and MLB fans face delayed spring training

“What’s going on?” Scott, Parker’s father, shouted to a familiar park employee. Short answer: nobody knows, and everyone has been instructed not to say anything.

“Updates on lockdown? asked Parker, who is 25 and is on match day staff at Roger Dean. Short answer: No. Absolutely none.

“The anxiety turned into frustration,” said Parker, a longtime St. Louis Cardinals fan. ” I did not know [the lockout] was going to be 81 days and counting.

He sensed a certain judgment in a few beats of silence. He looked down and laughed.

“Yeah, of course I counted,” admitted Parker. “Spring training is my favorite time of year.”

In Jupiter, as in the cities of Florida and Arizona, he is not alone. MLB has postponed the start of spring training games until at least March 5. The team’s full workouts haven’t started either. Around Roger Dean this week, fans and business owners are bracing for a longer waiting pattern. And it all comes after spring training was wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic midway through 2020, then delayed by fear and attendance limits in 2021.

This spring was supposed to be a sharp break in the right direction. Jupiter, and specifically the community surrounding Roger Dean, where the Cardinals and Miami Marlins train and have minor league teams, felt like it was deserved.

“It’s really devastating,” said Dennis Witkowski, owner of the Stadium Grill, a popular spot right across from the ballpark, for 20 years. “It’s just a punch. We rely on spring training every year. Our lives and our business revolve around it. Florida remains a wonderful place to spend the winter. We still have that tourism, but you can’t replace baseball fans.

On Sunday, discussions at the Stadium Grill ranged from the Daytona 500 to a recent Elton John tribute concert in a part of town called Downtown Abacoa, where the restaurant is at the center of a mall near Roger Dean. The entire establishment, including a bar, two dining rooms and a large outdoor patio, had less than half a dozen customers. Televisions were turned to NFL Network and English football. And on Monday, at the end of the holiday weekend, Witkowski only scheduled one server and two cooks for the lunch crew.

If the Cardinals and Marlins workouts were in full swing, he would have had 13 servers and seven cooks. So while baseball can be substituted in conversation and on television, there’s no sub for its bottom line.

“It’s a huge financial impact for me because that’s when we cash in for the leaner months,” said Vicki Parmelee, owner of Jumby Bay Island Grill, a block from Stadium Grill. , for 18 years. “But I feel even worse for new companies that have come here and are really excited, like, ‘This is my first big spring training. We haven’t been through this yet. And then they get this.

David Schroeder and his business partner, Thomas Op’t Holt, fall into this category. They opened The Brick & Barrel Gastro Pub, across from Jumby Bay, in June 2020. They have since opened two other locations in downtown Abacoa: Duke’s Tacos & Margs and Tavern Pi. Schroeder says, “The The stakes are much higher for us now.” Last March was Brick & Barrel’s best month yet, making Schroeder and Op’t Holt giddy with how this year looks.

“We’ve been talking about it for literally a year,” Op’t Holt said as he sat at the bar on Tuesday. Their plan was to add staff and open for lunch a few hours earlier than usual once games started. They have tasted their premium whiskey and hope to find buyers. “Closing spring training in March would be worse for us than another covid outbreak, like they announced the zeta variant was coming. It would be so bad.

“Traders here are pretty tight – we all talk a lot,” Schroeder added. “The number I’ve heard is that March is about 25% of business for the whole year. I’m not sure it’s that high for us. But even if it’s 15-20%, it’s important for any restaurant or store to miss. … You can feel it here when it rains during spring training. If it’s raining or something, it’s like, ‘Oh, man, we got 12 guys working.’ So having no games at all would be a disaster. It’s like a very, very long rain.

Lloyd Hyten, a diehard Cardinals fan from Dexter, Mo., has attended 17 of the last 19 spring workouts at Jupiter. He and his now-retired wife have spent two full months here over the past six years, missing no exposure from Cardinals to Roger Dean. On their daily walk around the stadium on Monday, Hyten tapped the only open wicket. He put his hands around his eyes, trying to block out the sun’s glare and see inside.

No one came, despite an illuminated “Open” sign. Hyten wanted to ask if fans could watch the Cardinals minor leaguers practice. He promises he could get by if the lockdown continues, whether that means obsessing over prospects or spending more days at the beach. At a nearby door, free copies of the Palm Beach Florida Weekly were stacked in a newspaper box. Go back and the last issue contained 213 “Things To Do” through the end of March. None mentioned “baseball” or “spring training.”

Once Hyten left for the afternoon, a pair of children, no older than 12, rode their bikes to the same ticket office and parked. MLB officials hovered directly above them, preparing for another round of negotiations that saw incremental progress. This time a woman was sitting behind the window. The boys asked if the games would start on March 6. She shrugged, offering no reassurance or information.

“Why don’t they play? one of the boys asked as they got back on their bikes.

“Something with a lockout,” said the other, raising his kickstand to pedal away from the park.

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