Birds not raising Arizona hopes

December 14, 1990|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

At the moment the Baltimore Orioles do not have a permanent address for spring training, but their search for a new site has not extended to Arizona.

"I hate to use an old cliche, but all I know is what I've read in the papers," said Tom Daffron, senior vice president and assistant to Orioles chairman and principal owner Eli Jacobs. He was responding to a report that said Tucson, Ariz., was courting the Orioles as a possible replacement for the Cleveland Indians, who have announced they will move their spring training camp to Central Florida in 1992.

Daffron, who has been handling the Orioles' negotiations, said the search for a training facility has not gone beyond the West Coast of Florida despite a recent setback in the development of a facility in Naples.

USF&G, troubled by the poor economic market, announced last week it would not exercise its option on a piece of land in Naples that would have included a new Orioles' spring training complex.

That, apparently, encouraged Tucson to entertain hopes the Orioles would consider moving to Arizona, where they trained in 1954 (Yuma) and 1956-58 (Scottsdale).

Tucson Parks and Recreation director Jim Ronstadt said city officials had talked to the Orioles about the move. The only discussion, however, was an informal inquiry made during the winter meetings to manager Frank Robinson, who is familiar with Tucson as a former manager of the Indians.

"I have not talked to anyone from Tucson," said Daffron, "and to my knowledge neither has anyone else, except for a brief conversation Frank may have had during the winter meetings."

Daffron said the Orioles were continuing to explore possibilities in Naples, including the initial tract of land, which would include a golf course and housing. "There is a comfort zone there," he said of the West Florida coast, "and that is where we are concentrating. We should know something in the next 60 to 90 days."

The financing to build a spring training complex, to house both the major- and minor-league teams, has been authorized by a hotel tax referendum. Daffron said the Orioles, who will play a road schedule this exhibition season, had only an outside chance of settling in Naples by 1992.

St. Petersburg, which has facilities already in place, is one possibility, as are complexes in Bradenton and Winter Haven, as well as Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.

The Cardinals train in St. Petersburg, but that city has had another complex available since the Mets moved to Port St. Lucie three years ago. The only drawback to a long-term agreement there is the possibility of that city getting one of the two National League expansion teams, which will be announced this summer.

The Pirates have announced they will leave Bradenton after next spring and the Red Sox have indicated they will exit Winter Haven then, too, putting both communities in the market for a tenant.

Cleveland is leaving Tucson, pending approval of a deal in Citrus County, Fla., for the same reason the Orioles would be reluctant to move to Arizona. "A four-hour plane ride as opposed to two hours is no big deal," said Daffron, "but in this area [Baltimore], people tend to think about Florida."

And even though Daffron was quick to remind that "you never say never," Florida is the only place the Orioles are considering for a spring training site.

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