Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred (center) is flanked by Houston Astros owner Jim Crane (right center) and Washington Nationals owner Mark Lerner (left center) along with other dignitaries during a groundbreaking ceremony for Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Steve Mitchell AP Photo

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros are getting a new home for spring training.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred was in attendance Monday at a ground breaking ceremony for the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. The teams are expected to begin training and play spring training games at the $144 million facility in 2017.

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When the stadium opens, it will end an 18-year absence of spring training baseball in West Palm Beach after the Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos left the area in 1997.

"One of goals is to make sure as many people as possible have an opportunity to enjoy spring training," Manfred said. "It's such a great part of our year and I think two additional teams here ensures that we have a sufficient body of teams in southeast Florida.

"I think these are two really appealing teams. They'll draw well and be great competition to the existing teams in the area."

The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals share Roger Dean Stadium, the spring training facility located just north of West Palm Beach in Jupiter. With the New York Mets training in nearby Port St. Lucie, five teams will be within a 50-mile radius of one another.

"The last thing players want to do during Spring Training is go on long bus rides," Manfred said. "Having a body of teams here in Southeastern Florida all within an hour of each other makes Spring Training great not only for these two new teams, but also the existing teams in the area."

Manfred, who owns a home about two miles from the property, raved about the location choice.

"The renderings are absolutely fantastic. I think the location is great. The ingress/egress is going to be good. It couldn't be a better site for the two teams."

Joining Manfred for the ceremony were city and county officials, along with team representatives from the Nationals and Astros that included Nationals owner Mark Lerner and Astros owner Jim Crane. Crane, who also owns the Floridian National Golf Club in nearby Palm City, touched on the various attractions the West Palm Beach area offers.

"We're very proud to be here," Crane said. "This is a big draw down here. You got great boating, you got great fishing, you got great beaches. With all the spring training teams so close, (people) will be able to go to more games. I think we'll draw more down here, I really do."

Led by Astros general counsel Giles Kibby, negotiations for the location started in 2012. After a long and arduous process, Crane is happy to be one day closer to the stadium opening, a stadium that will remain open for public use.

"What's so hard about turning a trash dump into a great baseball facility?" Crane said. "It took a little more work than I thought, but this is going to transform this location. I think it's going to revitalize and improve this neighborhood a lot.

"It's going to be a big draw for the community and a great park for the kids. Year round, they can play football, soccer and baseball here. It's going to be great for the families."

NOTES: Commission Manfred on any new developments with the Tampa Bay Rays and a new ballpark: "What's new is that Mr. Sternberg (owner of the Tampa Bay Rays) remains committed to the idea that he'd like to get something done in that (Tampa Bay) region. He's continuing to work to create enough flexibility to get something done." ... Manfred said the increased netting policy for fan safety would be a discussed at the upcoming owners' meeting: "I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of that conversation. We are going to have an extended conversation on the topic next week and we'll see how it turns out."