A fan's spring training to-do list - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

A fan’s spring training to-do list

Ed Smith Stadium
Photo credit: Jonathan Dyer - USA Today Sports

A month from tomorrow, spring training opens in Sarasota, Fla. It will be the 10th spring training for the Orioles at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, and while the 2019 team is an enigma, Sarasota isn’t.

Attending spring training is on the bucket list of many fans, but sadly few come. I’ve yet to meet one unhappy fan at spring training. The weather is great, the losses don’t count and the venue is terrific.

So, if you’re thinking about going, let’s go over the how and whys.

When should I go?

Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 13, the rest of the squad four days later, and by Feb. 23, games begin.

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If you want a relaxed environment, go before the first game. There’s no admission, and free parking. You can watch the team work out on the four back fields of the Ed Smith complex, which is at the corner of 12th Street and Tuttle Avenue.

You won’t have much company for those early workouts, which usually began around 10 a.m. under former manager Buck Showalter. Several dozen fans are present at most of these drills. Brandon Hyde hasn’t yet set a schedule for spring days.

If you want to see games, there will be 17 at Ed Smith Stadium. The Minnesota Twins visit on Feb. 23. Thirteen of the 17 games begin at 1:05 p.m. The March 3 game begins at 3:05 p.m., and there will be 6:05 p.m. starts on March 9, 20 and 23.

The first 10 days of games feature starting pitchers working two or three innings. Starters play perhaps five innings. The pace of play picks up after about 10 days, but there are fewer newer faces to look at as the schedule moves along and cuts are made.

The final game in Sarasota is March 25.

Ticket prices haven’t been announced nor has a sale date, but it should be soon.

Should I go to road games?

The Orioles are an ideal spot to see other stadiums. Pittsburgh trains in Bradenton, which is 20 minutes away. Tampa Bay (Port Charlotte) is less than an hour away, and Boston and Minnesota (both in Fort Myers), New York (Tampa), Philadelphia (Clearwater) and Toronto (Dunedin) are within 90 minutes.

Detroit, which trains in Lakeland, is about 80 minutes from Sarasota and about 40 minutes east of Disney World.

Next year, Atlanta, which trains at Disney World, will move to North Port, which is about 40 minutes from Sarasota.

Aside from Ed Smith, the nicest facilities to see are those of the Phillies, Pirates, Tigers and Twins.

How do I get there?

Southwest features seven daily non-stops between Baltimore and Tampa, which is about an hour from Sarasota.

This year, Allegiant Air is offering twice-weekly flights to Sarasota beginning Feb. 22. Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport is about 15 minutes from Ed Smith Stadium.

If you want to drive from Baltimore, it’s about 15 hours.

Where can I stay?

There are dozens of hotels in Sarasota, which is arguably the nicest city in Florida. The major chains are there, including Best Western, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Hyatt and Marriott.

If you’re looking on the lower end, there’s Knights Inn and Super 8. For a splurge, there’s a Ritz-Carlton.

Rates can often be pricey during spring training.

Some fans have had success staying at Airbnb and Vacation Rental by Owner. There are properties near Ed Smith Stadium.

Is there much to do besides baseball?

If baseball is just part of your vacation, Sarasota is a great place to visit. There are beautiful beaches, Lido and Siesta Key nearby, and Sarasota has an impressive arts community.

There’s live theater, opera, concerts and fine museums. The Ringling Museum features art and circus museums as well as interesting architecture. There’s also the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium on Longboat Key.

If you like to shop, St. Armand’s Circle near Lido Beach, has a dazzling array of stores, and if outlet malls are your thing, the Ellenton outlets are about 30 minutes away.

Disney World and other attractions in the Orlando area are a two-hour drive.

Where should I eat?

Vacationers and full- and part-time residents of Sarasota love to eat out. There are many good restaurants, and over the last nine years, I’ve discovered a number of them.

Perhaps my favorite is Dry Dock Waterfront Grill, which I learned about on my first visit in 2010 and have visited regularly since. It features stone crabs and seafood. If you’re unfamiliar with stone crabs, they taste like a combination of blue crab and lobster. The restaurant is located on Longboat Key.

Other favorites include Columbia, an old standby for Cuban food, Shore, both located in St. Armand’s Circle, Spacco for Italian, Yummy House for Chinese, Siesta Key Oyster House, Phillippi Creek Oyster House and Walt’s Fish Market, all for seafood.

For meat eaters, I recommend Cannon’s, a cool out-of-the-way steak house and Patrick’s, which features half-price burgers on Monday.

Yoder’s, an Amish market and restaurant, features excellent fried chicken and home-baked cakes and pies.

You can also find me at Duffy’s Sports Grill, which has dozens of TVs for sporting events, including tennis and curling.

Each year, I try to add a name or two to the list. This year, I’m going to try to sample Owen’s Fish Camp, which everyone recommends but doesn’t take reservations, and Summer House, a new steak and seafood restaurant on Siesta Key.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. mike3764

    January 15, 2019 at 7:14 am

    And for another bonus feature for your spring training trip, you can tweet Rich before/during a game and he will meet you downstairs to get your baseball signed by all the Orioles beat writers like I did haha. Hey is it a collector’s item now that Encina and Britt are no longer a part of the crew???

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 15, 2019 at 8:37 am

      I remember that, Mike! You’re going to have to get a new ball for this year.

      • mike3764

        January 15, 2019 at 1:41 pm

        I’ve been down the last 4 but can’t make this year.

        Another suggestion for Sarasota – McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre. It’s a two purchase requirement (2 drink or food items) but its well worth it. We hit that every year too on an Ed Smith Stadium night.

  2. Fareastern89

    January 15, 2019 at 7:55 am

    Rich — This was a great idea. It should prove very useful to folks who have never been, and raises new possibilities for those who have attended previously. My wife and I visited about five years ago, and I second your recommendation for the Cuban restaurant Columbia (especially the Spanish bean soup, and the chicken and rice Ybor). Also, we stayed at the Hotel Indigo and enjoyed it very much — it’s about a two-minute drive to the O’s complex.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 15, 2019 at 8:39 am

      Fareastern, I hope you make another trip, and if you do, hope that you’ll find something useful.

  3. boss61

    January 15, 2019 at 10:18 am

    Hi Rich. I’ve been there for the last three years running and I feel qualified to comment.

    1. We love Sarasota. We love everything about it. It’s the gem of the Florida west coast.

    2. We have affordably flown on Southwest to Tampa, and rented an affordable car for a nice hour-and-change ride to Sarasota. You get to pass the odd ugly duckling known as the Trop in both directions. It looks like a drunken architectural mishap from the outside. The rebuilt bridge across the Bay is breathtakingly beautiful. Tolls are reasonable.

    3. We have stayed at the Holiday Inn by the Sarasota airport on each trip. It’s nice, clean, quiet, affordable and a 15 minute drive form the ballpark. It’s also only 15 minutes from Bradenton. The Sarasota airport is not well-served from BWI without changing planes. Southwest does not fly there. Skip.

    4. We too found and loved the Dock Side restaurant, out on the key. Great choice; nice views too. Make a reservation; it gets busy. I was not the only patron wearing O’s gear there.

    4. Boca Sarasota is our favoirte restaurant there so far. The Columbia Restaurant on the Circle is overrated IMO. We also had a nice meal at Michael’s on East, on the south side of Town. There are lots of cheap breakfast options around too.

    5. The beach at Siesta Key is magnificient. With luck and an early departure from the hotel, you can park there.

    6. We sat right behind the O’s dugout, in seats that are bright and sunny. Nice shade can be found along the top tier of seats, particularly on the third base side. Sunburn is a real risk; sitting up there ( still really close in the greater scheme of things) should be a consideraiton. Ed Smith reminds us a lot of a baby Camden Yards.

    Any O’s fan needs this on their bucket list.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 15, 2019 at 11:10 am

      Mark, I’ll see you there soon.

  4. BirdsCaps

    January 15, 2019 at 6:04 pm

    One of these years I have to get down there.

  5. Bhoffman1

    January 15, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    What about bringing back Weiters and Markakis for two years as we rebuild around them. I know it only makes sense for the fans but at least it will put people in stands.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 17, 2019 at 10:09 am

      Markakis will probably re-sign with Atlanta and Wieters’ skills have slipped markedly.

  6. UnclePickle

    January 16, 2019 at 10:51 pm

    Thanks for the post, Rich!

    The family and I moved to Tampa in June so I’m really hoping to make it to my first spring training this year.

    Unfortunately I have pretty serious back issues so even just an hour away the chances aren’t great. Here’s hoping

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 17, 2019 at 10:10 am

      UnclePickle, hoping to see you in Sarasota.

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