Ruling might spur O's to fly from spring home


FAA: Team, Ft. Lauderdale have to pay more to airport fund


May 31, 2008|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,Sun reporter

A ruling yesterday by the Federal Aviation Administration in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., could lead the Orioles to find another spring training home next year.

The city administration issued a news release saying it has been notified that the FAA would not approve the use agreement between Fort Lauderdale and the Orioles unless the annual payments made to the airport fund, provided by the Orioles and the city, are increased to $1.3 million, compared with $70,000 to $120,000 in previous years. The Orioles want to tear down and rebuild 48-year-old Fort Lauderdale Stadium, which they've used since 1996, but they need FAA approval because it sits on executive airport property.

"This is a dramatic policy shift for the FAA," said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle, who plans to speak with U.S. Rep. Ron Klein on Monday. "It seems clear their desire is to have the land rezoned [from recreational to industrial] and expand the airport. We're hoping someone in the organization or a congressman is able to get them to reconsider. We love the Orioles. They told me personally they want to stay here, but they want a nice, modern facility, and the FAA is cutting our legs out from under us. But I haven't given up. I'm hoping they'll reassess their position and go back to the old agreement."

City officials and the Orioles agreed to a $38 million plan in December 2006 that also would include demolishing the adjacent soccer stadium and creating more fields. The Orioles' current agreement with Fort Lauderdale runs through next year and includes a club option for 2010. They've signed a 15-year lease with a 15-year option, but they can go elsewhere if they receive a better offer.

"The Orioles are obviously very disappointed, especially considering how diligently the city of Fort Lauderdale has worked to seek approval and how patient the Orioles have been during the process," said Alan Rifkin, counsel for the Orioles. Rifkin added that the FAA's decision was not unexpected. "They've been foreshadowing that for some time," he said.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said there has been no reversal of policy. "Federal law requires us, and the airports, to acquire fair market value for any non-aeronautical use of airport property, and that's been in effect for a decade," she said. "This should be no surprise to the city of Fort Lauderdale. We've been discussing this for months."

The Orioles are believed to have signed an option agreement with Indian River County that would allow them to hold spring training in Vero Beach as early as next year, and officials from Sarasota have reportedly contacted them about replacing the Cincinnati Reds.

Indian River County administrator Joe Baird told the Vero Beach Press Journal yesterday that he's still negotiating with a team. "We're fairly close," Baird said. "I'm optimistic."

Base-path woes for Roberts?

Second baseman Brian Roberts ranks among the American League leaders in stolen bases with 14 after getting one in the third inning last night, but he also has been caught five times and picked off three times.

"I'm not in a position to talk to him about how to steal bases. He knows how to do that far better than I could ever imagine," manager Dave Trembley said. "A big part of what he does for our team here is steal bases and be aggressive. When it works out, it's great. It's like the 20-foot shot in basketball - `No, no, no, no, no.' Then when it goes in, `Great shot.' "

Trembley is taking the blame for Roberts breaking too soon for third base and being caught in a rundown by New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte at a crucial point in Wednesday's loss.

"We never saw Pettitte two-look anybody at second base, ever," Trembley said. "Every video I looked at, every scouting report I had, Pettitte never two-looked anybody. So that's my fault because I told Roberts: `Hey, Pettitte's a one-looker. Boom. You need to steal.' Pettitte two-looked him and picked him. I'm not going to tell Brian Roberts not to be aggressive. I'm not all of a sudden going to put a hold sign on Brian Roberts and tell him not to steal and not to run. He's one of the premiere base runners in baseball. That's a big part of why he's here and what he does for our team."

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