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Orioles make it official: Sarasota in 2010

Ed Smith Stadium

Ed Smith Stadium when the Reds were a tenant.

After months and months of speculation and negotiation, the Baltimore Orioles finally settled down and made a long-term commitment to a spring-training facility, signing a 30-year lease to train at Sarasota’s Ed Smith Stadium, former spring home of the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds.

For the Orioles, the move comes after pitches from Lee County/Fort Myers, Vero Beach and Tucson. It marks the end of Orioles training in the greater Fort Lauderdale/Miami area: the Orioles trained in Miami from 1959-1990 and in Fort Lauderdale from 1996 through 2009. It is a return of sorts: the team trained in Sarasota from 1989 to 1991. Poor conditions at Fort Lauderdale Stadium and the fact that a new facility in that city would never happen forced the Orioles into a move.

The Orioles will begin training in Ed Smith Stadium and the former Reds’ practice facilities as they are in 2010. After the 2010 season, the ballpark will undergo a $31-million facelift, paid for by Sarasota County. The agreement also calls for the Orioles to keep minor-league operations at Twin Lakes Park, but the Orioles will need to pay into a maintenance fund and upgrade the fields. Both Tampa Bay and Boston refused to send their minor-leaguers to Twin Lakes Park in spring 2009 because of the poor playing conditions.

Ed Smith Stadium opened in 1989 as the spring home of the Chicago White Sox. It was since used by the Cincinnati Reds before that team shifted spring operations to Goodyear, Az. earlier this year. It’s a functional enough ballpark, but it does need some TLC to bring it up to modern standards; there’s precious little shade at the ballpark, and it lacks the amenities (nicer suites, party and picnic areas) fans expect out of a spring-training facility. Of course, when compared with Fort Lauderdale Stadium, Ed Smith Stadium in its current state is a Taj Mahal, so a $31-million facelift should really please fans.

The deal calls for the Orioles to lease Ed Smith Stadium year-round, assume maintenance costs (which traditionally have been $400,000 annually) and potentially sell naming rights, which will lead to speculation that the team will take over the Sarasota Reds after the 2010 season.

This probably will be the last spring-training move in Florida we see for some time. Almost every team in both Florida and Arizona are tied to facilities with long-term leases. There are two Arizona teams with expiring leases — Milwaukee’s ends in 2012, while the Cubs’ can be exited with a buyout — but it would be highly surprising to see either team pull up roots and move to Florida; the much more likely development is that both will stay in the greater Phoenix area, either in new or renovated facilities.

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