Smallest Mets Fans Get New Roost For Ball Games
GAINESVILLE—When baseball fans start complaining about bats, it conjures up images of players in a batting slump.
But at the Mets’ spring training home in St. Lucie County, the bats in question are the furry, flying kind. And while Mets fans didn’t exactly want the creatures hanging around in the stadium, they didn’t want to leave them homeless.
So with the help of University of Florida wildlife specialist Ken Gioeli, St. Lucie County added a bat house to the Mets’ spring training complex and will open it Monday (3/23).
When the furry fans took up residence at the Mets’ ballpark several years ago, no one complained at first, said stadium superintendent Albie Scoggins. But over the years human fans noted a peculiar odor about the stadium, and the clean-up crew tired of daily duty to rid the stands of bat litter — and we’re not talking about hot dog wrappers and soda cups.
Bat droppings, or guano, present an odor and sanitation problem, and finally the local health department stepped onto the scene.
“Health inspectors said the bats would have to go or they would close the stadium,” Gioeli said. “You can imagine that bat droppings falling into drinks or hot dogs would not be desirable.”
With spring training in jeopardy, county officials sprang into action. They began building a bat house modeled after the one on the UF campus with the advice of Gioeli and Bill Kern, a wildlife specialist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences who monitors the UF bat house.
The Mets’ bats will get a home about a quarter the size of the house at UF which, with more than 60,000 bats, houses the largest colony living in a structure made especially for bats.
And as with the UF bat house, which stood empty in its early years, bat experts are not sure the Mets bats will relocate to their new home right away. To get the stadium ready for spring training, the bats had to be excluded before the bat house was ready: Screening was put up at night while the bats were gone to keep them from going back into the rafters when they returned.
Local officials also are building another bat house nearby at a shopping center, making the community more-than-usually bat friendly, Gioeli points out. Bats make good neighbors, he said, because they dine on night-flying insects and provide natural pest control.
Bat houses also provide opportunities for community wildlife education and even tourism, Gioeli said, noting the nightly pilgrimage visitors make to the UF bat house to watch the bats fly.
“Hopefully, the bats will come back to the ballpark,” Gioeli said. “We want them there, just not in the stands.”
- Cindy Spence