By Daniel Rifkin
It's happened at last. After spending the last 20 years searching for a permanent spring training facility, the Orioles are finally migrating to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. The Sarasota County Board of Commissioners approved a 30-year lease for the team on Wednesday night.
The O's have spent 14 seasons in Fort Lauderdale with what is regularly described as one of the most decrepit and deplorable spring training facilities of any major league team.
The Orioles' losing streak is attributable to plenty of more substantial causes than poor spring training conditions, but the decaying state of Fort Lauderdale Stadium has been a lingering symbol of the ballclub's futility and decline from greatness over the past two decades. Like putting "Baltimore" back on the road jerseys, the move is more important to many fans as a symbol that change is afoot than for any concrete reason.
"We look forward with great anticipation to becoming an important part of the civic fabric of the Sarasota community and to bringing Orioles baseball to the residents of the Greater Sarasota area," Orioles executive vice president John Angelos said. "This is a true partnership that is in the best interest of the Orioles and the community of Sarasota."
The facilities, whose previous tenants, the Cincinnati Reds, left for Arizona last march, also needs major renovations. Fortunately, the Orioles' agreement also calls for $31.2 million in renovations, though they won't begin until after the Orioles spend next spring there.
Playing in Sarasota will also allow the Orioles, for the first time since 1995, to have their major league spring training in the same town as their minor league spring training, held at Sarasota's Twin Lakes Park. Plans also call for the establishment of a Cal Ripken Youth Baseball Academy at Twin Lakes Park.
"I have always liked the idea of the kids playing side by side with the ballplayers," said Cal Ripken, Jr, about the new Sarasota academy. "it really enhances their experience."
Posted: July 23, 2009