Now that the Super Bowl is over, spring training is just eight days away. Pitchers and catchers report on February 11 and work out for the first time the next day. Position players are scheduled to report on February 16, and the first full-squad workout is February 17.
The workouts, held on the back fields of the Ed Smith Stadium complex, are free and open to the public. The team usually is on the field before 10, and workouts last perhaps two hours.
Crowds are small for the workouts, and most fans prefer to wait for the start of Grapefruit League games. The Orioles’ first game at Ed Smith Stadium in on February 23, and games run through March 24.
Usually, I advise fans to avoid the early games because starting pitchers work perhaps an inning in their initial outing and starters play just several innings.
However, this year is different. Catcher Adley Rutschman, the overall No. 1 pick from 2019, will be in camp and should get into some early games. So, if you want a glimpse of the Orioles’ future, you might want to come to Sarasota a little earlier in 2020.
The Orioles plan to have 64 players in camp, an enormous number. Fans who have watched pitchers Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther, Alex Wells and Bruce Zimmermann at Frederick or Bowie can see them for the first time at major league camp.
Ed Smith Stadium is one of the nicest ones in the Grapefruit League, scenic and intimate. For the second straight year, Boog Powell will be selling his barbecue at the games, just as he does at Oriole Park.
There are 17 home games, most beginning at 1:05 p.m. On March 5, game time is 3:05 p.m. There are four 6:05 p.m starts — March 10, 14, 20 and 21.
As the Orioles celebrate their 10th anniversary in Sarasota, perhaps the in-game music, which has been largely the same since the team moved there, can be updated.
There’s also a tiresome public address announcer who attempts to entertain the crowd with his comparisons of temperatures in the competing home cities of the teams. Somehow, when the nearby Tampa Bay Rays come to call, he doesn’t give the temperature in St. Petersburg.
If you’d like to see the Orioles play some road games, there is a new opportunity this season. The Atlanta Braves have moved from Disney World to CoolToday Park in North Port, in southern Sarasota County. That’s about a 40-minute drive from Ed Smith Stadium.
The Orioles will play twice in North Port, and they’ll also play twice against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, about a 20-minute drive.
Almost all of their road schedule is at parks within easy driving distance. I would recommend a trip to Fort Myers to see the Minnesota Twins, about 90 minutes away, and Clearwater for the Philadelphia Phillies, about 70 minutes from Sarasota.
The Orioles play twice in Fort Myers and Clearwater. They’ll also play the Boston Red Sox, who are 15 minutes away from the Twins in Fort Myers, twice.
Other teams on Florida’s West Coast are New York (Tampa), Tampa Bay (Port Charlotte) and Toronto (Dunedin).
Getting to Sarasota isn’t hard. Unfortunately, Southwest doesn’t fly to Sarasota, but there are eight daily non-stops from Baltimore to Tampa, a little over an hour away.
You can fly to Sarasota. American and JetBlue fly there, but you’ll have to make a connection. A discount airline, Allegiant, offers some non-stop service.
Major hotel chains ,including Hilton, Holiday Inn, Hyatt and Marriott, have multiple properties in Sarasota. Discount chain hotels are also plentiful. Some fans have had success renting from Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner).
Spring training is peak season in Sarasota, and hotel rates can be expensive.
Despite the myth that spring training is a vacation, it’s not. The Orioles have only one day off during the spring, March 9, and my tourist experience is minimal.
I will recommend the Ringling Museum and the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, which I went to last year for the first time. The Mote is located on Longboat Key.
I’m not a beachgoer, but Sarasota’s Lido and Siesta Key beaches are excellent.
This year, I asked for some recommendations from Jennifer Grondahl, who’s the Orioles’ senior vice president, community development and communications and a longtime resident of the Sarasota area.
Jennifer recommends a visit to Selby Gardens, which is near downtown Sarasota. Selby Gardens has a spectacular orchid collection and great views of the bay.
She also points out the newly opened Sarasota Museum of Art, which is in the old Sarasota High School building, and it’s filled with “interesting, contemporary art.”
If you’re a cook, as Jennifer is, she recommends the Saturday morning farmer’s market. Another recommendation for water sports is “kayaking the mangrove tunnels is a one-of-a-kind experience. Another fun thing to do is rent wave runners at CB’s in Siesta Key.”
One thing I get to do in Sarasota is going out to eat. Over the past decade, restaurants have come and gone.
There’s one restaurant that’s been a constant, and that’s the Dry Dock Waterfront Grill, which I discovered 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 in St. Armand’s Circle; the Shore Diner, also in St. Armand’s Circle; and this year featuring a new location farther down Longboat Key, Yummy House for Chinese, Siesta Key Oyster House, Phillippi Creek Oyster House and Walt’s Fish Market, all for seafood.
The highest-rated restaurant in Sarasota is Owens Fish Camp, which for some reason I hadn’t dined at until last year. I won’t make that mistake again.
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. It’s an ideal family spot.
You can also find me at Duffy’s Sports Grill, which has dozens of TVs for sporting events, including tennis and curling.
My favorite breakfast or lunch spot is the Sun Garden Café on Siesta Key.
Jennifer also recommends Blue Marlin in Bradenton Beach on lovely Anna Maria Island, Mar Vista on Longboat Key, Antoine’s for mussels, located near Ed Smith Stadium, Sage, and for casual dining, the Gecko Grill and First Watch, which has several locations for breakfast.
If you have any specific questions about Sarasota, please feel free to e-mail me: [email protected]
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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