Today, Jupiter, Fla., is as familiar as a spring training home to the Cardinals and their fans as the bird on bat is as a logo. Fifteen years ago, though, when the Cardinals left St. Petersburg for Jupiter, it was very much like landing on another planet.
Jupiter is on Florida’s east coast, in glitzy and congested Palm Beach County.
The move 200 miles southeast was prompted by several factors, including the chance to train in larger and more modern facilities and because the American League expansion team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, arrived in 1998 and made St. Petersburg their base.
Sharing the Jupiter complex with the Cardinals in 1998 were the Montreal Expos. Today, the Miami Marlins are the Cardinals’ spring-training neighbors.
Bob Broeg, longtime St. Louis baseball reporter, wrote in the February 1998 St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was looking forward to seeing the Cardinals’ new spring training site, “although it’s sad to see them leaving St. Petersburg, the ballclub’s home since Pepper Martin slid down a hotel’s emergency rope fire escape.”
Broeg described the scene at St. Petersburg in 1946, when players returned in droves from military service in World War II, and a pair of glamour teams, the Cardinals and Yankees, trained there:
This was the last year of rickety old Waterfront Park in St. Pete.
The memories of many of that spring … included a favorite watering trough – the crowded Sundown Club of lightly publicized St. Petersburg Beach. The beach would have superstars Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial having a drink, back to back.
As Red Schoendienst recalls, if a young ballplayer or young reporter would have had $2,500 to spend then, he could have acquired enough sand dune-seaweed waterfront real estate to make a small fortune.
Schoendienst’s first spring in St. Petersburg was in the 1940s.
“I’ll miss St. Pete,” Schoendienst said to Mike Eisenbath of the Post-Dispatch in February 1998. “When we left St. Louis every year to go there, it was like going from your home to another home.”
Said Cardinals instructor George Kissell, who resided year-round in St. Petersburg: “It’s like being evicted from home. I’ve lived in St. Pete for 42 years, and for 42 years everybody came to me. But it made sense to move. This (Jupiter) will be a great place. You can’t judge it today. Wait until a year from today.”
Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon, who enjoyed St. Petersburg, quickly became a Jupiter booster because of the quality of the baseball facilities.
“St. Pete is a great city and has fantastic memories for the Cardinals,” Shannon said to the Post-Dispatch. “But comparing the facilities in St. Petersburg to the ones here, it was like having a minor-league outfit for a major-league team there. This is the big leagues here.”
In a preview of spring training 1998, Dan O’Neill of the Post-Dispatch wrote:
For a number of Cardinals fans, the spring migration to the soft breezes and lazy life of St. Petersburg, Fla., was a given – like barbecuing in the summer and tree-shopping in December.
In Palm Beach County, life, as well as traffic, moves more briskly.
Adding to the excitement of the Cardinals’ first spring at Jupiter was the arrival of slugging first baseman Mark McGwire. He had been acquired by St. Louis in July 1997. He arrived early for his initial spring training at Jupiter.
“I love it,” McGwire said to Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch.
Said manager Tony La Russa: “When key guys get there early, it sends the right message.”
McGwire went on to hit a record 70 home runs that season.
The Cardinals have won two World Series titles (2006 and 2011) since they started training at Jupiter. Playing at 6,800-seat Roger Dean Stadium, they had their best spring training game attendance averages in the years after those championships: 6,600 per game in 2007 and 6,700 per game in 2012, according to the Palm Beach Post.