Road life is wearing on Orioles

March 19, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Any major-league team considering a nomadic spring training life, even for one year, should compare notes with the Orioles.

Are you listening Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, California Angels? Less than halfway through the exhibition schedule, it is obvious the Orioles made a mistake transferring their entire operation to the west coast of Florida this year. Their intentions were -- and still are -- logical, but playing as a "traveling team" without a home base has been a distinct distraction and inconvenience.

When the Orioles announced a year ago they were giving up Miami's Bobby Maduro Stadium as a home site, they thought they would have to play without their own park for only one year. A plan for a state-of-the-art complex in Naples was near completion and the facility was expected to be ready by next year.

But that fell through when USF&G, the project's main backer, had to pull out because of the economy. That means the Orioles are faced with making temporary arrangements again next year -- and everyone knows the current setup will not be as easily accepted next year.

"What we have to do is get our long-term plans completed as soon as possible," said club president Larry Lucchino. "It is the highest priority we have. We have been working closely with Collier County [in which Naples is located], trying to resurrect the deal.

"We have to get that done before we can resolve anything on a temporary basis," said Lucchino, who is due to return to this area later in the week.

In the meantime, however, the Red Sox, Indians and possibly the Angels could also be looking for temporary homes -- only a few of which are available. And there is a very real possibility the Orioles could even return again to the Miami area. Such a move could be particularly appealing if southern Florida is awarded a National League expansion franchise for 1993, and more games could be played in expansive Joe Robbie Stadium.

"If nothing else could be worked out over here [the west coast of Florida], I wouldn't be opposed to going back," said Lucchino. In the meantime, the Orioles are scuffling for temporary quarters.

They would like to remain close to the complex they're using in Sarasota County, but there is no hope for a stadium at that site. The White Sox have Ed Smith Stadium tied up, and sharing the park is not a workable situation.

Each of the Orioles' 33 exhibition games this spring will require a bus trip. They are the Hob-O's of major-league baseball and, while all parties agree the situation is tolerable for one year, it is beyond question to try it again.

"There's nothing pleasant about it," said Jeff Ballard, the Orioles' player representative. "Nobody really likes it, but there hasn't been a lot of grumbling.

"We really can't do anything about it, so you accept it and make the most of it," said Ballard. "Just as long as we don't have to do it again."

Manager Frank Robinson acknowledges the exhibition schedule has curtailed some normal activities and presented some hardships. But he doesn't feel he has to express his feelings to management.

"I pretty much said how I felt when we indicated we were going to leave Miami," he said. "It was with the understanding that this would only be for one year and I said that we could live with that."

With a permanent site out of the question at least until 1993, however, there is some pressure to make an early commitment for next year. The key team in the maneuverings appears to be Pittsburgh. The Pirates have until Monday to notify officials in Bradenton that they are leaving. They are expected to sign a long-term deal with Winter Haven, the site Boston is abandoning after 26 years.

Since Bradenton is not considered ideal for the long term, it becomes a primary target for teams looking for a temporary base.

St. Petersburg and Fort Myers, already the spring home for the Cardinals and Twins respectively, are other viable alternatives because each has a facility available. But sharing a small spring market is not ideal for anything other than the short haul.

Where a team trains is not normally a headline issue, but in the situation the Orioles find themselves in, it can be a factor in team performance. "We've missed some fundamental practice time because of the travel," Robinson admitted during yesterday's rainy off-day. "That and the absence of personal contact with the players you leave behind [for workouts] is the biggest thing. There are a couple of players I haven't seen for a few days, because we've been traveling and they've been staying here [Twin Lakes Park] to work out.

"If it was necessary that I see them, I could, but if we had a home park you'd have daily contact with those players who weren't going to dress for a game. The fundamental practice we've missed we should be able to make up when we move to the Fort Lauderdale area [for their last 10 Florida exhibitions].

"We'll have the use of the park in Pompano, and we'll probably work out there a few times before going to play our games," said Robinson. He indicated the Orioles would get all of their spring training work completed, but not without adjusting the routine schedule.

"The players have been good about it," said Robinson. "They knew from the beginning that it would be different. We explained to them that it was going to be tough, that it was going to be a grind. If there's been any grumbling, I haven't heard it -- and you usually hear those kind of things. It's a situation we have to deal with and make the most of.

"We knew it was going to be tough, but we didn't know how tough because we hadn't been through it before."

Now that they've traveled the nomadic path, the Orioles know it's something to be avoided at almost all costs. They will have to make a move to avoid a repeat next year, because acceptance won't come easily a second time around.

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