The spring ahead

April 03, 2009|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,dan.connolly@baltsun.com

Wednesday's exhibition game was the Orioles' final in 2009 at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, and it's still not official whether they'll be back in 2010 and beyond.

The search for a new spring training facility has become a never-ending saga of fits, starts, flirtations, rejections and complications. Although some club officials are optimistic a long-term solution is coming, there's no concrete indication of when.

Here are the four possibilities, all in Florida, and where the club stands with each:

SARASOTA Attractive to the Orioles because their minor leaguers are already there and the big league club could move next year into Ed Smith Stadium, which the Cincinnati Reds are leaving this spring.

But in December, the Sarasota County commissioners rejected an Orioles proposal that requested a $50 million project that would substantially renovate the major league complex and the Twin Lakes Park minor league complex. The commission doesn't appear willing to back a project that would cost more than $39 million.

Yet Sarasota County commissioner Shannon Staub, a leading proponent of wooing the Orioles, said: "I don't think we are that far apart. We feel the Baltimore Orioles fit here better than any other place."

Another alternative would be going to Sarasota temporarily and then moving on, perhaps to Fort Myers in 2012. In a letter to the Orioles on March 20, the city of Sarasota established an April 30 deadline for the club to consider a two-year, as-is lease option for Ed Smith Stadium.

FORT MYERS Lee County is building a facility for the Boston Red Sox, who will move there by 2012. That means the Red Sox's current spring home, City of Palms Park, will be vacant.

In addition to constructing the new site, Lee County Commission Chairman Ray Judah said, the county has sufficient financial resources to upgrade City of Palms Park, allowing the Orioles to join Boston and the Minnesota Twins in Lee County.

Judah is hopeful the Orioles could pick Fort Myers within a month.

"We are in very meaningful discussions with the Orioles," Judah said.

VERO BEACH The Dodgertown complex is likely out of the running. In October, an Orioles attorney and Indian River County officials worked on a potential contract, only to have it returned by the Orioles "with more strikeouts and underline changes than ever before," said Peter O'Bryan, one of the county's commissioners.

The board voted in December to pull its proposal and enact a 30-day "cooling-off" period in which it would have no contact with the club.

"We have not heard a lick from the Orioles since that time," O'Bryan said.

FORT LAUDERDALE The club's Fort Lauderdale Stadium lease expires June 30, but the Orioles can renew it for 2010 as long as they inform the city by May 1. (There is also a one-year option for 2011 with Federal Aviation Administration approval.)

The club and city had agreed to a long-term deal that would have included the rebuilding of the stadium and surrounding grounds, but it was contingent on, among other things, FAA approval, because it is on Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport land.

Chaz Adams, spokesman for the city, said FAA attorneys are reviewing the proposal but there is no timeline on a decision.

"We are confident if we can get that, a lot of the other things will fall into place," Adams said.

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