It is always a pleasure to take in a Baltimore Orioles spring training game. This year’s visit to Ed Smith Stadium was no exception, as the team and its fans have settled into a familiar, satisfying routine.
There’s a long history of spring training in Sarasota, dating back to 1924 when the New York Giants arrived in town. Payne Park, which opened in 1928, was longtime home to spring training in town, hosting the Giants, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago White Sox along the way. Ed Smith Stadium opened in 1989 as the spring-training home of the White Sox. When the ChiSox moved spring operations to Arizona, the Reds moved to Ed Smith Stadium from Plant City in 1998.
During those days, Ed Smith Stadium was a very basic facility: lots of concrete and not much shade. When the Red departed for Goodyear, Arizona in 2010, Sarasota officials cast about for a replacement and found the Orioles, miserable at a run-down Fort Lauderdale Stadium, ready for a move across the state.
As part of the deal, Ed Smith Stadium was renovated. And when we say renovated, we mean totally overhauled, with precious few reminders of the original design. The new Ed Smith Stadium was a triumph of the Sarasota style of architecture (a local variation on the Spanish Mediterranean architecture found throughout Florida) found in the region: lots of earth tones and stucco, with considerably more shade and places to hang out to watch the action, both in terms of open decks down each line, open seating past left field and an air-conditioned lounge. Add in plenty of decorative touches in terms of historic Orioles branding (as well as the lovely bat chandelier in the main entry), and you have one of the finest spring-training experiences.
This year is no exception, as the Orioles spring-training operations continue to excel. The food offerings at Ed Smith Stadium are as fine as ever, ranging from the high-end Café 54 offerings (paninis, subs, Cuban sandwiches) to the Esskay hot dogs (kosher, foot long, veggie) found throughout. The Orioles also endeavor to be good neighbors, with a preseason open house and other events during spring training.
How good? According to an independent economic impact analysis commissioned by Sarasota County Government and released by the Orioles, the team has a $97 million impact due to the following factors:
- Year-round professional event management, including production of Major League Baseball games, commerce, training, and rehabilitation during spring training and year-round.
- Year-round production of Minor League games, commerce, and training throughout the spring, summer, and fall months, including presentation at the Ed Smith Stadium of the home schedule of the Gulf Coast League Orioles, along with Minor League training throughout the year.
- Presentation of a series of arts, culture, and community events and programming, including the Orioles’ “Arts in the Ballpark” series, featuring the Sarasota Orchestra, “Nashville’s Music Row Comes to the Ballpark” fundraising weekend, and youth baseball tournaments held for tens of thousands of tourists and locally-based families.
- Sarasota 365 marketing and promotion campaign executed by the Orioles to benefit Sarasota County’s “Visit Sarasota” tourism agency and employing Orioles multimedia television, digital, social media, and radio platforms, as well as at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, driving fans based in the Mid-Atlantic to vacation in, invest in, and retire to Sarasota County.
Now, numbers like this are always up for debate, but the fact they were compiled by an independent research firm, Research & Marketing Strategies, Inc., should indicate that the team is making an impact in Sarasota County.
There was not much new at Ed Smith Stadium for 2018 spring training. But that’s OK: the place was pretty perfect going into February, and nothing we saw last week changed our opinion of the Orioles spring-training home.