Orioles might train at Disney World

March 18, 1994|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Writer

The Orioles' six-year search for a permanent spring-training home could be ending soon in the backyard of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

Team officials are negotiating with the Walt Disney Co. to move their Grapefruit League headquarters to a planned 100-acre sports theme park at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., according to sources familiar with the talks.

The Orioles complex -- including a 10,000-seat stadium and four practice diamonds -- would be built by Disney at no cost to the Orioles, with the parties to split revenues from tickets, concessions and advertising.

The Orioles could move into the proposed complex by 1997 if a deal with Disney can be closed soon. The two sides have met repeatedly in recent weeks and might be able to reach agreement on the spring-training complex within two months, the sources said. However, many issues remain unresolved.

Neither Disney nor Orioles officials would comment on their negotiations yesterday.

Talks about an Orioles-Disney collaboration began in earnest late last year, after the team was sold to investors led by Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos, the sources said.

Disney has been searching for several years for a partner in a spring-training venture.

The Orioles apparently leaped to the front of the line for several reasons. Among them:

* Disney's plans, announced last fall, to build a historical theme park in northern Virginia, 35 miles outside Washington. The Orioles would provide a regional tie-in.

* The huge, critical success of Camden Yards. Disney apparently hopes to capitalize on the excitement surrounding the 2-year-old Orioles stadium.

* The shrinking number of available teams. With the New York Yankees apparently leaning toward Tampa, Fla., for a spring-training venue, the Orioles are the most marketable of the clubs still in search of a permanent home. Tampa is said to be wooing the Yankees with an offer to spend $17.5 million on a 10,000-seat stadium.

The prospect of a Disney deal comes at the right time for the Orioles. Since leaving their longtime headquarters in Miami five years ago, the club has been the nomad of the Grapefruit League, ever searching for a complex to call its own.

In 1990, the Orioles effectively had no home. They conducted early workouts in Sarasota and -- because their facility had no stadium -- played all their Florida exhibition games as the visiting team.

For the past four years, the club has split time between Sarasota (workouts) and Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg (home games). The stadium is less than ideal, because the Orioles share it with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Orioles' clubhouse is several miles away.

At Disney World, the Orioles apparently would be one attraction in a sports tourist park. In addition to a baseball stadium, nTC facilities being discussed include a football training camp and an Olympic training center, the sources said.

The baseball park would be used year-round, with colleges and teams from foreign countries visiting to play games.

Disney and Orioles officials also are exploring the possibility of locating an Orioles minor-league team at Disney World.

The sports theme park, on undeveloped land owned by Disney, would be the fourth attraction within Disney World, joining Epcot Center, Magic Kingdom and MGM Studios.

Disney's possible entry into the spring-training business comes amid a recent flurry of such deals. Two weeks ago, the Florida Marlins moved into a state-of-the art, 7,500-seat stadium and complex in Melbourne, Fla. The stadium is filled with money-making amenities, ranging from $12 tickets to a spring-training novelty, sky boxes with rental fees as high as $25,000.

The Disney proposal is the latest in a series the Orioles have weighed in recent years. Under then-owner Eli Jacobs, Orioles officials made a serious bid to move to Naples, Fla., south of Sarasota. The deal fell through two years ago, when a tax to fund construction of an Orioles complex was struck down by a Florida appeals court.

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