Change in spring park possible for O's
Move from Fort Lauderdale to Sarasota may last 30 years
NEW YORK -- The Orioles appear to be on the verge of ending their 14-year relationship with Fort Lauderdale Stadium. The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported Tuesday that Sarasota County and the Orioles have reached an agreement that would relocate Baltimore to Ed Smith Stadium in 2010 for the next three decades.
That deal is expected to be discussed in front of the Sarasota County Commission on Wednesday, and team officials said they cannot comment until after the proceedings have taken place. The Orioles would get more than $31 million to renovate Ed Smith Stadium, the former longtime spring home of the Cincinnati Reds.
The Orioles would be responsible for all operating and maintenance costs at Ed Smith Stadium after the initial renovation, and the deal even leaves room for a potential Cal Ripken Baseball youth academy. More importantly, the deal would allow the Orioles to have their Major League and Minor League teams train in close proximity.
"I think as much as anything, we need to get our Minor League and our Major League teams together," said second baseman Brian Roberts, the Orioles' second-longest-tenured player. "We need an upgrade of facilities. There's only so much you can get done in a weight tent. I think it would be a good thing for the organization. It would be good for the players in here and good for trying to get players to come. I don't think there's any doubt about that."
Several other players spoke up in support of the move, saying that they enjoyed the nightlife in Fort Lauderdale but looked forward to playing in a facility that would help them better prepare for the regular season.
"Anything would be an upgrade," said Aubrey Huff. "Don't get me wrong -- I love Fort Lauderdale and it's an awesome place to be, but you walk into the clubhouse and you get that musty smell of asbestos. And then you walk outside and you get the jet fuel smell. The infield was terrible and the weight room was a tent. It was just bad."
"There's no doubt that the facility needs some upgrades," added Gregg Zaun of Ed Smith Stadium, a park he's played at as a member of the Blue Jays and Astros. "But if they put some money into it, it could be great because it's got everything right there. The other great thing about it for the Orioles is that the Minor Leagues are right across town. You can go over and get at-bats in the Minor League games and they don't count against you."
The Orioles have played at Fort Lauderdale Stadium since 1996, and they watched a few attempts to modernize the facility fall through due to the presence of a local executive airport that borders the back field. The team's current Minor League facility is in Sarasota, which should perhaps ease the transition up-state.
Orioles manager Dave Trembley, who lives in Daytona Beach, chose his words carefully on Tuesday.
"If in fact that does occur," Trembley said, "I think it will be a step in the right direction to bring the entire organization in closer proximity. I think that will be a very, very positive thing for all of us. But obviously, [president of baseball operations] Andy MacPhail and our other front-office personnel will in due time make that announcement -- if that's the announcement that's coming."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.