Vegas vacation looming for O's?

Club among six teams in running for new spring training circuit

February 27, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles have been attempting to upgrade their spring training situation for much of the past decade. Now, it appears, lady luck may intervene in their favor.

The club is one of six teams under consideration for a new spring training circuit that has been proposed in Las Vegas. The Orioles appear to be a long shot to go through with a cross-country move, but just the possibility could also improve their chances of getting a new spring training facility built in Florida.

"The Orioles remain interested and focused on the attempt to get a modern state-of-the-art spring training site in Florida," said Orioles chief operating officer Joe Foss. "That process has been difficult and complicated by economic considerations and competition for [tax] dollars. Notwithstanding our interest in Florida, we are about to embark on a thorough examination of a spring training possibility in Las Vegas."

The first step in that process is a six-team summit hosted by the Las Vegas Tourist Bureau on March 6, at which Foss will represent the Orioles.

It is not known whether the heavy emphasis on casino gambling and sports betting in Las Vegas will be an obstacle to the plan, but there is a precedent. The San Diego Padres' Triple-A affiliate is located there.

Orioles officials have been trying to secure a modern, all-inclusive major- and minor-league facility since before owner Peter Angelos bought the franchise in 1993.

The club moved out of its longtime spring training home in Miami after the 1990 Grapefruit League exhibition season and trained in both Sarasota and St. Petersburg before settling into the old New York Yankees facility in Fort Lauderdale. The club will spend at least one more spring there, but hopes to relocate in time for the spring of 2002.

"Our target for having both the major- and minor-league operations on one site is 2002," said Orioles executive vice president John Angelos, who recently joined the club in Florida. "Philosophically, we've tried to look at areas in Florida that Orioles fans would like to visit. We've tried to focus on places that have a lot to offer."

Ideally, that place is Fort Lauderdale, and negotiations continue with city officials for a new facility, but John Angelos said that Las Vegas is "a real option."

The Las Vegas Tourist Bureau apparently hopes to enhance its marketing efforts on the East Coast by luring several Grapefruit League teams to the gambling and entertainment mecca.

According to a source close to the situation, the other five teams that will send representatives to the March 6 meeting are the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers and Houston Astros.

"This was brought to a number of clubs," said John Angelos. "It would present an option, but we are still committed to the South Florida region. We are talking to the city of Fort Lauderdale and we're still interested in this area.

"We've focused primarily on trying to continue what we've developed here. We have done a lot to build the fan base here. Attendance was up 20 percent last year."

The Orioles are expected to bring the club's minor-league operation into the Fort Lauderdale area by next spring. The club will move out of the Twin Lakes Park complex in Sarasota and likely settle into a temporary site within short driving distance of the major-league camp next spring.

After that, who knows? The Orioles may well find happiness in the Nevada desert in a brand new multi-team complex. Money for spring training has been tight in Florida and Arizona since the spring training development boom of the late 1980s and early '90s, but funding apparently would not be a problem in Las Vegas.

"I think it's being promoted by the Las Vegas Tourist Bureau as an opportunity to expand their tourism business," Foss said.

No doubt, tourism officials would love to lure more tourists from the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions -- particularly gamblers who would have another reason to choose Las Vegas over nearby Atlantic City. Whatever their motives, the effort is being taken seriously in Florida and Arizona.

"They have the money to make it work," Cactus League treasurer Robert Brinton told the Orange County Register last week. "What we're hearing here is that this is a very serious effort, and any time Las Vegas said it's going to do something you have to take them seriously. Vegas can do anything they want to do any time they want to do it."

Even if the Orioles decide not to go, the effort could increase their leverage in Florida and -- if Las Vegas succeeds in luring other teams there -- create vacancies in other facilities.

Pub Date: 2/27/00

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