When it rains, O's facility questions pour

March 03, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

SARASOTA, FLA — SARASOTA, Fla. -- It happens every spring. The first time the clouds at Twin Lakes Park let loose, the Orioles' front office is showered with questions about its seemingly endless quest for a new single-site, all-purpose spring training home.

Heavy rains soaked the fields yesterday, forcing the cancellation of the first Orioles intrasquad game and forcing the club indoors for a protracted workout in a limited facility.

The Orioles are grateful to have use of the Twin Lakes Park site in Sarasota and the Huggins-Stengel complex in St. Petersburg, but they missed out on the training camp bonanza of the late 1980s and still are paying the price.

"The source of frustration is that it was supposed to be done a long time ago . . . soon after we left Miami," assistant general manager Frank Robinson said. "It was just bad timing. The Mets were the last team to get the old Santa Claus treatment."

There was a time when cities in Florida and Arizona were willing to do whatever it took to lure a major-league team into town. The fabulous facilities occupied by the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie and the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers are proof of that. The Orioles were close to completing a deal for just such a site three years ago when USF&G pulled out of a sponsorship arrangement in nearby Naples.

Since then, front-office officials have investigated a number of possibilities, but still do not appear to be close to putting anything on paper. The new ownership group is just beginning to get up to speed on the spring training situation.

"We're just starting to look at it," said Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss, who will spearhead the effort. "Clearly, the Orioles do need a permanent spring training facility of their own. While it's nice to have the accommodations in St. Petersburg and Sarasota, we do need our own, and that is clearly our goal."

Whether it can be accomplished for the 1995 season is another matter.

The Orioles could move into an existing site in time for spring training next year, but it probably would take a few years to build a new facility. The actual construction time has been estimated at 10 months, but that doesn't factor in the time it takes to choose a site and obtain zoning approval and financing.

"I would hope that we will have the site determined by this summer," Foss said. "I think it is fair to assume that we would not be able to occupy a new facility by next year, but there is the possibility of moving into an existing one."

The club obviously would be interested in setting up permanently in Sarasota if the Chicago White Sox go through with their plan to relocate spring training in Arizona. The New York Yankees also are considering a move that might make their current facility at Fort Lauderdale available.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos recently toured the facility that wasbuilt in hurricane-ravaged Homestead, south of Miami, but that does not appear to be a strong possibility.

"We haven't ruled out anything," Foss said. "We're going to look at a number of possibilities. I can say that we haven't been considering anything in Arizona. We'll probably stay in Florida."

There is every reason to believe that the Orioles will stay right where they are next year. The split training camp -- and their sublet status at Al Lang Stadium -- is not ideal, but it is an improvement over the Miami complex that they vacated a few years ago. It's also a vast improvement over the all-road exhibition season of 1991.

The Orioles were being punished for their bad timing and their reluctance to contribute substantially to the financing of a new facility. They now may have to shoulder a larger share of the cost than some of the teams that got in on the spring training gold rush, but they appear to be ready to move forward.

"I think with the new ownership group, we'll get something done in a very short time," Robinson said.

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