After years of fishing, exploring and negotiating, the Orioles finally have settled on a new spring training facility in Florida.
Starting in February 2010, the club, which has been in Fort Lauderdale since 1996, will hold spring training in Sarasota and its Ed Smith Stadium, on the western coast of the state. The big league camp will be within a dozen miles of the organization's minor league facility, which is already in Sarasota.
"We look forward with great anticipation to becoming an important part of the civic fabric of the Sarasota community and to bringing Orioles baseball to the residents of the greater Sarasota area," Orioles executive vice president John Angelos, who has spearheaded the relocation effort, said in a statement.
After listening to roughly 50 public comments in a marathon meeting that lasted until nearly 10 p.m., the Sarasota County Board of Commissioners voted, 4-1, on Wednesday night to approve a memorandum of understanding with the Orioles, which includes a 30-year lease with the team and $31.2 million in renovations to Ed Smith Stadium and Twin Lakes Park, the Orioles' minor league spring facility.
Earlier in the day, the Sarasota City Commission voted, 3-2, to sell the Ed Smith property to Sarasota County for $1 and agreed to contractual language that included some environmental indemnity for the club and county.
The county then had to approve that inter-local agreement as well as the funding allocation - $7.5 million in state grants and $23.7 million from an increased county tourism tax - and the memorandum of understanding. All the motions passed, 4-1.
There are still a few administrative details that need to be finalized, including some design aspects and the rejection of the 2010 option at obsolete Fort Lauderdale Stadium, but the club's arduous search for a spring home seems to be over.
Most important, for the first time since 1995, the Orioles' minor and major league complexes will be located within a 15-minute drive, not three hours apart.
"You have no idea how enthusiastic the baseball side is. We have been working under a handicap for 15 years," Orioles president Andy MacPhail told Sarasota's county commission Wednesday before the vote. "This is a great piece of the puzzle."
The Orioles will play in the 22-year-old stadium next spring, and a full renovation will begin after the club heads north. The stadium will be rebuilt, with the current seating capacity increasing from 7,500 to between 8,500 and 9,000.
In addition, the dilapidated Twin Lakes Park complex will be fully renovated and refurbished. Adjacent to Twin Lakes Park will be a newly constructed Cal Ripken Youth Baseball Academy, which can be used year-round for camps and tournaments."I am thrilled that ... Ripken Baseball will be a part of the facility in Sarasota," Ripken, the Orioles' Hall of Famer who has a similar academy in Aberdeen, said in a statement. "I have always liked the idea of the kids playing side-by-side with the professional ballplayers."
"There's no doubt that the facility needs some upgrades," said Orioles catcher Gregg Zaun, who has played at Ed Smith as a visitor. "But if they put some money into it, it could be great because it's got everything right there."
Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.