"Fort Lauderdale was a great city, but the game had outgrown the facility," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "You need to change with the times. We just didn't have enough space to be on an even playing field with everybody else, but that has changed and I think we're all excited."
Closing the gap
The closest facility to Fort Lauderdale was Jupiter Stadium, shared by the Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, and that drive took nearly an hour even without the unavoidable South Florida rush-hour traffic. Often, Trembley held regulars at home rather than forcing them to make two-plus-hour drives day in and day out.
In Sarasota, the Orioles have a handful of teams within an hour and a half, including all their American League East rivals.
They'll also be more equipped to call on minor leaguers this spring if Trembley needs reinforcements, or if he just wants the big league coaching staff to get a firsthand look at a prospect. The club's major and minor league facilities had been nearly four hours apart, making it the only major league organization that had such a separation. Now, they are only 15 minutes apart.
Several Orioles had criticized the arrangement because it prevented minor leaguers from being able to watch and interact with big league players, a key component in young players' development.
"It gives you a great deal of flexibility that we didn't have before," MacPhail said. "To protect yourself if a pitcher left earlier than you were hoping, you would end up driving these minor league players eight hours [round trip] for a game which, in all likelihood, they wouldn't perform in. It retarded their development ... and it also deprived us an opportunity to mosey over and watch a guy that you want to see in the minor league camp. Plus, it's hard to tell them that the minor leagues mattered when you had them over four hours away. Actions speak louder than words."
The club has refurbished the much-maligned fields at the Twin Lakes Park complex, which were so bad last year that three organizations refused to send their teams to play against the Orioles' minor leaguers.
More changes to the facility are both needed and scheduled, but for now, the organization is relishing the upgrades that have been made and the opportunity to start a long relationship with Sarasota.
"The Baltimore Orioles and Sarasota now go hand-in-hand," Trembley said. "The entire organization is here. It's not one half in Fort Lauderdale and the other half in Sarasota. I don't think you can underestimate what this is all about."