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Lee County, Sarasota renew rivalry for Orioles spring-training camp

Talks are heating up over the future spring home of the Baltimore Orioles, with team officials meeting today with reps from Lee County — but don’t count out Sarasota just yet.

The Baltimore Orioles are at crunch time when it comes to spring training 2010. The team has three options, but none of them are particularly attractive. The Orioles could train once again at Fort Lauderdale Stadium and Sarasota’s Twin Lakes Park, but many in baseball frown on that: Fort Lauderdale Stadium is a pit (opposing managers and umpired registered formal complaints about the place) and the Orioles do a poor job of maintaining Twin Lakes Park, causing the Rays and the Red Sox to refuse sending minor-league players there for games last spring. Ed Smith Stadium and the former Reds training camp could be used for 2010 and 2011, and perhaps longer if the county and city agree to some sorely needed improvements. And there’s been some talk about the Orioles sharing City of Palms Park with the Red Sox until Boston’s new spring facility is done for 2012.

The deadline? The team needs to notify Fort Lauderdale by June if they want to return there for spring training in 2010.

Though Lee County officials are discussing lease with John Angelos and the rest of the Orioles crew today, Sarasota remains a very strong contender to land the O’s if a comprehensive funding plan for a renovated facility can be put together. Though what Sarasota County and the city are offering do not come close to the $70 million or so requested by the team, the offer of $28.2 million for a renovation of Ed Smith Stadium — given the economy — is nothing to sneeze at. The Orioles admit this in a statement to Glenn Miller of the Fort Myers News-Press:

“We, like any Major League Baseball team seeking a significant long term partnership with a Spring Training community, would certainly welcome and would respond to a concrete, comprehensive, joint City-County offer. Naturally, that offer would fully and completely describe the respective roles of the City, County, State, and team in addressing the needs and costs of the fields and facilities. We continue to await such a complete and comprehensive joint proposal from Sarasota and will begin the process of evaluating such a proposal once one is received.”

Indeed, we’ve been told directly by some high up in the Orioles organization that Sarasota truly is the preferred destination, for several reasons. First, with three teams already training in the greater Fort Myers area, the Orioles would be the fourth team in a small market. Second, the Orioles would likely not field a Florida State League team in Fort Myers because of territorial concerns; they could assume control of the Sarasota Reds and begin play next season. And, finally, while Fort Myers is a good market, so is Sarasota — and in fact Sarasota may be even better if the O’s are the only team in the market. The Orioles saw what the Tampa Bay Rays did in a renovated Charlotte County Sports Park — selling out every seat in the place — and may have concluded a renovated facility is just as good as a new one when it comes to generating revenue.

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