Here's your guide to Sarasota as spring training nears for Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Here’s your guide to Sarasota as spring training nears for Orioles

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

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.

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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

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Fareastern89

    February 3, 2020 at 8:38 am

    Great recommendations, Rich. We went for the workouts five or six years ago, and the atmosphere was very relaxed, which encouraged interactions between players and fans. And we had a great lunch at Columbia. Stayed at the Hotel Indigo, which was a little pricey but only about a two-minute drive from the stadium.

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 4, 2020 at 12:09 am

      Thank you, Fareastern.

  2. Jim-Considine

    February 3, 2020 at 9:30 am

    Rich,
    I followed your travel advice in 2018 and it was spot on. Flying into Tampa Bay at sunset on a clear day offers a magnificent view. On the ground, the Tampa airport makes BWI look like a Trailways Depot.
    I used Waze, which is owned by Google as my driving guide without a hitch.
    Driving south from Tampa will quickly take you to St. Petersburg. As you negotiate the turns on the beltway system, the first sight to behold is a large ediface poking over the horizon that looks like a full trash can wearing it’s lid like a beret. I pulled off to be able to gaze at Tropicana Field. The “Trop” is a monument to mediocrity surrounded by plenty of really neat spring training ballparks. The good news is the next sight is the spectacular Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge spanning the Tampa Bay. That’s enough for now considering this is not a travel blog.

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 4, 2020 at 12:10 am

      Thank you, Jim.

  3. BobKominski

    February 3, 2020 at 10:36 am

    Hi – I live in Sarasota for the winter months, and am a Orioles Spring Training season ticket holder.
    Here’s a few additions to Rich’s comments:
    1) You CAN bring both food and unopened plastic bottles into Ed Smith – that has always been their policy – it is the ONLY spring training ballpark where you can do this. There’s a 7-11 directly across the street from the ballpark (at Tuttle & 12th) where you can get snacks and soda/water; there’s also an Asian and Hispanic restaurant where you can buy carry-out. I bring in food to EVERY game I attend.
    what you CANNOT bring in is an umbrella – and most seats are in the sun.
    2) Street parking is possible but not easy – I recommend using the lots ($10 to park).
    3) If you show up without tickets (bad idea) there are usually sellers on the NE corner of 12th and Tuttle. You cannot sell on the ballpark grounds, but selling across the street is legal.
    4) There are 5 microbreweries in Sarasota; one of them, J Dubs, is right off 12th street a few blocks west of of the ballpark.
    5) In addition to the restaurants Rich mentioned, I would add Captain Brians (just about Sarasota airport on US41) and Barnacle Bills (on Main St downtown) – both offer a wide array of Florida fish/seafood at very reasonable prices
    6) The Sunday Drum Circle on Siesta Beach at sunset is one of the most fun things you’ll ever see/do. Siesta Beach is routinely rated as one of the 5 best beaches in the United States.
    I dreaded the thought of having to move to Ft Lauderdale when I retired, just so I could be near the O’s.
    Their move to Sarasota was one of the best things that ever happened to me and my wife!

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 3, 2020 at 11:13 am

      Thank you, Bob. Excellent suggestions.

    • Araminta Ross

      February 4, 2020 at 12:06 pm

      Bob, Can U give me a brief history about Ed Smith Stadium? Who was he & what significance did he have with the O’s? I don’t ever him at all. You can respond to me on Twitter: @Araminta_Ross or right on here, whatever you prefer. Thx.

      • BobKominski

        February 4, 2020 at 2:35 pm

        As I understand, Ed Smith was a local sports booster guy who was instrumental in getting the ballpark built. For many years the Red Sox played in Payne Park, just east of US 301 downtown (there is still a very nice public park there today – the ballpark is gone but there is a little ‘memorial’ in the park). After the Red Sox left, there was no team for awhile. Then, a group of sports civic leaders led by Ed Smith helped to get a bond issue passed, and the current ballpark was built, opening in 1989. I believe their first team was the White Sox; when they left for Arizona, the Reds played there for 10 years until they also left for Arizona in 2008. The ballpark sat empty for a year or 2 until the Orioles reached a deal with Sarasota and contributed $ to help significantly rebuild and improve the park. The Orioles began playing there in 2010. This will be the Orioles 10th year in Sarasota. More details on wikipedia if you care.

  4. willmiranda

    February 3, 2020 at 11:30 am

    Thanks, Rich, for the info. Unfortunately I can’t use it personally, but I enjoy vicarious traveling. Just to make this a legit, BaltimoreBaseball thread: Where does Chris Davis eat and how much does it cost?

  5. NormOs

    February 3, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    Great article Rich, and a great ball park. When my wife and I left the park, the attendant at the gate thanked us for coming. I’ll never forget that. Overall, it was a nice experience.

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 3, 2020 at 12:35 pm

      Thank you, Norm.

  6. joyabsalonphoto

    February 3, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    Thanks Rich. You listed a few restaurants I haven’t tried since the O’s moved to Sarasota. I’ve added them to my list and will be trying them in a few weeks.

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 4, 2020 at 12:10 am

      Thank you, Joy.

  7. Grand Strand Bird Fan

    February 3, 2020 at 4:25 pm

    Nice summary. Its a great city with a lot to do. Some things I like is Nathan Benderson Park by Homewood Suites. It has a walking and bike trail (3+ miles) around a lake. Stadium Gallery at St Armand’s circle has a lot of stadium and sports pictures. Marina Jacks located at the harbor is a great place for lunch with a spectacular view of Sarasota Bay. Also, Barnacle Bills Seafood off main street is nice reasonable pricing. Ed Smith is an excellent stadium with Orioles championship banners hanging off baseball bats. Great experience.

  8. orion1782

    February 3, 2020 at 5:21 pm

    I echo you entirely on the public address announcer. Not to be too negative, he just seems like a top 40’s disc jockey that’s miscast as a PA guy. it gets old fast.
    Overall love your recommendations- I would warn first time attendees if you’re staying across the bridge in the Keys you need to account for traffic for the evening games. I’ve connected through Atlanta with Delta coming out of BWI the past few years and usually it’s gone OK.

    David

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 4, 2020 at 12:11 am

      Thank you, David.

  9. ButlerBulldogs2010

    February 4, 2020 at 11:44 am

    Hi Rich-Owens Fish Camp? Sounds great! My wife & I love Sarasota but that’s one place we’ve somehow missed. Love the name-it sounds like some raggedy little place on a dock, but if it’s rated # 1 in Sarasota, I’m sure it’s much more than that!

    I’d also recommend Venezia for Italian food on St Armand’s Circle & Lynch’s Irish Pub (just off St Armand’s) for the best Irish Stew we’ve ever had.

    Thanks for your very insightful writing on the O’s, Rich, as they navigate their way forward through this rebuild. I believe in Elias’ plan & in the long run it will turn out quite well for them! 2 more years of very high draft choices in each round should really finish off the rebuild/set them up for becoming a very strong contender!

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 5, 2020 at 8:59 am

      Owens Fish Camp is located on a side street in downtown Sarasota, Bulldog. I’ve never been to Venezia, though I have walked past it many times, and I have been to Lynches, but the Yelp comments indicate lots of dissatisfaction with service there.

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