Baseball Fantasia

March 22, 1994

So there's talk of the Orioles alighting at Disney World in a 10,000-seat spring training roost? Let's see, Disney gets 33 million visitors a year, divided by 365 days a year equals 90,000 visitors a day. Spring training is peak season so count on a few thousand folks more. A quarter of Disney's visitors hail from overseas so they'll want to see American baseball and a goodly chunk come from New York (read: Yankees/Mets fans.) And to think, Baltimoreans chafe at sharing the Orioles with Washington!

If this proposal becomes realty, it would be great for the Orioles, Disney, maybe even for Maryland. Walt Disney Co. became interested in associating with the Orioles because of the success of Camden Yards (Baltimore's own sports theme park), because of Disney's planned entree into Virginia and because some other teams, notably the Yankees, weren't interested in a spring training home near Fantasy Land. With all those Disney vacationers streaming into Oriole Park at Orlando, Maryland economic development boss Mark Wasserman sees it as a tourism promoter's dream.

We shouldn't get too carried away, especially at this preliminary stage. Still, Orioles owner Peter Angelos contends on a scale of 10, the chance of an Orlando spring training complex happening is an "8." There has even been talk of Disney, in turn, building an entertainment venue near Baltimore's Inner Harbor, possibly in the Middle Branch Park area, to tie in with Camden Yards. Disney says it has no plans for a theme park in Baltimore, but that doesn't preclude something on a smaller scale.

For the Orioles, the Disney association could provide a spring training home for a baseball team that has been the nomad of major league baseball's Grapefruit League, shuttling between facilities in Sarasota and St. Petersburg.

Some people might worry that getting in to see an Orioles spring training game at Disney World might be even harder than getting in to see the Birds at Camden Yards. Yet Disney's plan, which also calls for facilities for football and Olympic training, is only riding a wave of sports mania among fans. Spring training has ceased to be a laid-back scene, a citrus-sweet sample of baseball for the casual fan. Now there are $12 tickets, sellouts and autograph hoarders, just like the big show. We'll watch these Disney-Orioles proceedings with interest, though we already have a suggestion for a stadium name: the Magic King-dome.

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