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Orioles down to Fort Myers, Sarasota as future spring home

With multiple deadlines at play, the Baltimore Orioles appear close to making a decision about moving spring-training operations to Sarasota or Fort Myers.

In both situations, the team would play at an existing facility: Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota or City of Palms Park in Fort Myers. Ed Smith Stadium could be available to the Orioles as soon as 2010 now that the Reds have shifted spring operations to Arizona, while City of Palms Park would be available in 2012 once the Red Sox move to a new facility.

From what we hear, the Orioles are leaning toward City of Palms Park — but no final decision is in place.

Here’s the deal. Sarasota officials are pressing the Orioles for a commitment to play at Ed Smith Stadium and sent a letter asking for a response by April 20, outlining the team’s plans. The team did indeed send a letter saying the Orioles were moving to Sarasota, but did not include any counteroffers to a $44 million renovation of Ed Smith Stadium rejected by the team.

To Sarasota officials, the lack of a counteroffer means the Orioles are not really interested in a move.

That would confirm what we’ve been told by some in the Orioles front office: Sarasota is strictly a backup plan, and that Fort Myers is the desired destination for the team.

Which is a little surprising. Despite the many shortcomings of Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota is a very good baseball market, and the Reds did draw well there for many years. Still, by moving into Sarasota you then inherit the nightmares of dealing with the local political scene — and that’s what drove the Reds away.

Moving to City of Palms Park is a little riskier. Adding the Orioles would give Lee County three spring-training teams (Boston and Minnesota are still there) and the general region four (Port Charlotte hosts the Rays). That may be too much for that metro area to handle, and it would be problematic for the Orioles to host a Florida State League team in the city because of territorial issues.

Still, all signs point to Fort Myers. The Orioles and Lee County have been discussing leases, and we’ve been told the team is drawing up a proposed lease based on the current Twins and Red Sox leases. A decision regarding Lee County could come in the next few weeks.

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