Unlike the nearby St. Louis Cardinals, which rejoined the league in 2007 after a 12-year hiatus, the Mets have fielded teams in the Florida-based league since 1988. The two clubs had competed in a five-team GCL East Division, along with the Marlins, Nationals and Astros.
Other than the Marlins, which share the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. with St. Louis, the Mets offered the nearest competition for the Cardinals in geographic terms. Their facility in Port St. Lucie is just 40 minutes away, while the Nats (Viera) and Astros (Kissimmee) are located at least two hours north.
Because over a quarter of the GCL Cardinals' 2011 schedule (15 of 55 games) was against the Mets, the New Yorkers' decision will mean substantial schedule changes going forward. The Cardinals may stay home and face the Marlins even more often than they already do (14 times last season) as well as will log more unproductive hours on the bus.
This underlines a growing problem with baseball in Florida. As Arizona has wooed away organizations from the Sunshine State, the geographic dispersal problem in Florida has been accentuated. The other ten GCL clubs are all located on the Gulf Coast side of the peninsula, too far for the rookie level clubs concentrated along the Atlantic Coast to practically travel.
As a result, the likely GCL East structure in 2012 will include just four clubs.
The Cardinals are not overly concerned, however. Club officials have been told they will not be required to travel to Viera and Kissimmee on consecutive days. Further, with the Marlins in the same complex, the 2012 GCL Cardinals should remain home an average of four days per week (three as the home club and one as visitor against the Marlins), making the long trip north the other two days.
The GCL is often the initial home for graduates of the Cardinals Dominican Republic academy as well as the first stop for many high schoolers taken in the June draft. The schedule typically starts in late June and runs through late August, with afternoon games played on the back fields of the major league spring training complexes.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column during the season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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