Goodbye Sarasota, Symbol of Hope

Posted on March 27, 2012

By Stan "The Fan" Charles

What's that old saying, "Hope springs eternal"? Well, like much larger and more important problems of poverty in our country, try telling that to someone that wakes up every morning living in blight.

So it was with the Baltimore Orioles for the better part of the past 30 years. The team's last World Series Championship (and third in 17 years) came in 1983. I think the first time I ever attended an extended stay for spring training was in Miami before the 1984 season.

For years, during Earl Weaver's tenure as Orioles manager, he spoke every spring about working on things on his "little field." Those things were those little added edges that so often helped the Orioles win important regular-season games. Plays such as the "famed play," which entailed baserunning practice, that honed in on a play to win a game during the late innings of a tie.

With runners at first and third against a left-handed pitcher, the Orioles would work on the timing of having the runner on first intentionally take too big a lead. The pitcher would normally glance at first and forget about the runner at third widening his lead, see an easy pickoff at first and be stunned, upon throwing to first, to realize he had been had, as the runner from third scampered home for the winning run.

But, the Little Field did nothing to hide the fact that Bobby Maduro Stadium was a dump, located in the midst of a sketchy area, riddled with crime.

As the Orioles tried and tried to work a magical deal through three ownerships, the Orioles' spring training issue mirrored the team's fall from grace. First there were those couple horrific years, when the club trained at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota, but bussed the 40-45 miles to St Petersburg in their uniforms to play their "home" games.

That became such a ludicrous situation that when the Yankees made the move to Tampa, the Orioles applied the law of squatter's rights to Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Or should we say antiquated Fort Lauderdale Stadium?

All the while, spring training became a vivid reminder of how little hope there was for a brighter day, as the situation in Fort Lauderdale became bleaker and bleaker.

Five years ago, the Orioles and Broward County tried to make something work that would keep the Orioles in South Florida. But complications with an adjacent airport could not be worked out to allow changes to the training complex that the Orioles deemed essential to making their entire developmental program in the spring work.

After prolonged haggling, the Orioles and Sarasota officials signed a long-term, 30-year deal, which allowed the Orioles to move to Ed Smith Stadium, refurbish the stadium and clubhouse and at the same time upgrade Twin Lakes Park (about 20 minutes from Ed Smith) for the entire organization's minor league hub.

This year, all of that is behind the Orioles. Was it too slow? Yes. Did it adversely affect the baseball team? Yes.

Andy MacPhail's lasting legacy as Orioles GM will clearly not be the team's win-loss record. But Orioles fans will always owe him a debt of gratitude for his methodical approach and his ability to get Peter Angelos to sign off on this change.

The 2012 Orioles will not win the World Series. Wow, how is that for a bulletin? But management, staff, players and fans can now see this glistening symbol of hope springing eternal.

It's been a long wait just to feel the hope -- and sometimes, you need to see the hope in symbols that are tangible.

Posted March 27, 2012

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