Orioles near deal to play in St.Pete next spring

May 11, 1991|By Mark Hyman

The Baltimore Orioles apparently will be trying something a little different for spring training 1992 -- home games.

After spending a spring without a home ballpark -- and on a seemingly never-ending road trip -- the Orioles are pursuing a deal that, temporarily, at least, would establish Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla., as their home field.

"We've been exploring the possibility of going to St. Petersburg, but we've not made any final deal or agreement. It's under consideration," Orioles president Larry Lucchino said this week.

Assistant City Manager Lee Metzger, the St. Petersburg official who is negotiating with the Orioles, said the two sides are trying to transfer their discussions into "written-agreement form."

"At this point, we're not actively pursuing another team," Metzger said.

According to the Orioles' plan, the team would continue to spend the first two to three weeks of spring training in Sarasota, Fla., at Twin Lakes Park, which has several practice fields but no stadium in which to play games. They'd move their operation to St. Petersburg for the start of the Grapefruit League schedule, usually in early March.

Last spring, the Orioles spent their entire Florida swing at Twin Lakes Park, a plan that proved unpopular with players, who complained about too many bus rides and too few chances for extra batting practice.

The Orioles are looking at St. Petersburg as a stopgap measure only, however, because they hope eventually to move to a new complex built for them in Naples, Fla. That project has been slow-moving, though, and won't be completed at least until 1993.

St. Petersburg is well-known on the spring-training circuit. Since 1938, the city has been the training headquarters for the St. Louis Cardinals. The New York Mets also trained there, sharing Al Lang Stadium with the Cardinals until the Mets moved out after spring training of 1987. Ever since, St. Petersburg officials have been looking for a second tenant to share the 7,200-seat stadium.

Metzger said the Cardinals are "very interested" in having the Orioles in St. Petersburg because of the convenience of scheduling last-minute "B" games for players who aren't involved in that day's primary exhibition game.

"The Cardinals are in favor of having another team here. They're aware and have encouraged it," he said.

For the Orioles, St. Petersburg apparently is one of very few alternatives to a repeat of last spring's arrangement and the travel havoc it created. Occasionally, the Orioles caught a break -- for instance, they played five games in Sarasota, a 15-minute ride from Twin Lakes. But most of their days began with substantially longer bus rides to places such as Port Charlotte or Fort Myers.

The Orioles were designated as the home team in nine of their spring games, in places such as Bradenton, Sarasota and Miami, but it always required a bus ride to get there.

"All things being equal, we'd prefer to play more home games than we played this year -- that's a fair assessment," Lucchino said. "We also don't want to give up the quality facility we have at Twin Lakes."

Meanwhile, in Naples, negotiations are moving slowly among the Orioles, Collier County commissioners and Florida Rock, the company that has agreed to donate land for an Orioles complex.

The commissioners waived a 30-day deadline for reaching an agreement that they imposed in late March. The issues still unresolved include zoning changes sought by Florida Rock and how to pay for a 1-mile access road into a complex with an estimated $3 million price tag.

Orioles spring sites

1954-58 -- Spent a year in Yuma, Ariz., another in Daytona, Fla., before settling in Scottsdale, Ariz., for 3 years.

1959-88 -- Established home base in Miami, holding workouts and playing games in inner-city neighborhood at Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium.

1989-90 -- Shortage of practice fields and deteriorating neighborhood spurred move of early spring workouts to Sarasota, Fla., at Twin Lakes Park. Orioles returned to Miami for Grapefruit League schedule.

1991 -- Moved from Miami for Twin Lakes Park, leaving them without a stadium in which to play Grapefruit League home games. Orioles began negotiations with Collier County officials for training complex in Naples, Fla.

1992 -- Considering plan to hold workouts at Twin Lakes Park, then play Grapefruit League home games at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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