In just over four weeks, the first normal spring training in four years is scheduled to begin in Sarasota. Pitchers and catchers will report to the Ed Smith Stadium Complex on February 15th, and the first workout is set to begin on the 16th. Position players will report on February 20th with the first full-squad workout on February 21st. The first Grapefruit League game is scheduled for February 25th in Sarasota against the Minnesota Twins.
If you’re planning a trip to Sarasota, here’s what you need to know.
How should I get there? Southwest Airlines has four non-stops a day between BWI and Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport. SRQ is about 15 minutes away from Ed Smith Stadium.
It’s a small and growing airport, and sometimes rental car pickup lines can be long.
Where should I stay? Every hotel chain is well represented in Sarasota, but after two years of Covid-affected spring trainings, and last year’s lockout causing a late and shortened spring, fans and non-fans are flocking to Sarasota this year, resulting in higher hotel prices.
If you’re contemplating a trip to Sarasota, I would advise booking it soon.
There are many hotels near the airport, which isn’t far from the ballpark. Some fans like to rent Airbnb and Vrbo.
There are so many things to do besides baseball, but if you’re going to several games, I would advise staying in either downtown Sarasota or near the airport because traffic has gotten much heavier in recent years, but many fans like to stay on Siesta Key or near Lido Beach.
What games should I attend? There are 17 home games from February 25th through March 27th. Twelve games begin at 1:05 p.m., and there are five 6:05 p.m. starts — March 3rd, 10th, 16th, 23rd and 24th.
There are games against the Twins, Rays, Blue Jays, Pirates, Braves, Phillies, Red Sox, Tigers, Yankees and Cardinals.
If you’re planning on seeing the Blue Jays or Yankees, don’t expect to see Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton. Big names rarely make road trips, and if they do, they’re generally to closer ballparks.
The first 10 days of Grapefruit League games feature starting pitchers working just an inning or two, a sprinkling of regulars who play briefly and many younger players.
Those 10 days may be your only chance to see Cedric Mullins this spring since he’ll be leaving the Orioles after a few weeks of training for Team USA’s entry in the World Baseball Classic. The same is true for Anthony Santander, who’ll play for Team Venezuela, Dillon Tate (Team USA), and Dean Kremer (Team Israel).
Should I go to away games? Ed Smith Stadium is the nicest spring training park in Florida. However, it’s always fun to see the Orioles on the road, and they’ll be playing at the Tigers (Lakeland), Pirates (Bradenton), Rays (Tropicana Field), Twins and Red Sox (both in Fort Myers), Phillies (Clearwater), Blue Jays (Dunedin), Braves (North Port) and Yankees (Tampa).
Many Oriole regulars won’t travel to away games, especially early in spring, and I would avoid the days of split-squad games (March 13th in North Port and March 19th in Tampa) because the number of players recognizable to the more casual fan may be few.
Because of hurricane damage to their spring training headquarters in Port Charlotte, Tampa Bay will play nearly all of its Grapefruit League games at Tropicana Field, and it’s not likely to be a lively atmosphere.
The Orioles visit LECOM Park in Bradenton on February 28th, March 14th and 25th. It’s an easy way to see road games because the Pirates play just 20 minutes away from Ed Smith Stadium.
My favorite road park is Clearwater’s BayCare Park, home of the Phillies. The Orioles visit on March 9th and 20th. They sell DELCO cheesesteaks, which are excellent, and baseball’s best mascot, the Philly Phanatic is often on hand, too.
What else is there to do? I don’t get much time off in spring training. The Orioles’ only scheduled offday is on March 15th, and each year I try to do something new.
Over the years, I’ve been to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which is near the airport, the Mote Marine Aquarium on Longboat Key and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens on days off.
I’m not a huge beach person, but I love the areas around Lido Beach and Siesta Key. Traffic and parking can be difficult at times. One area I try to visit each year is Anna Maria Island, which is north of Longboat Key. Its beach may be less crowded, and there are some excellent restaurants there.
The best shopping is at St. Armand’s Circle, close to Lido Beach.
Where should I eat? This is my favorite part of doing the guide each year because I try to sample a new restaurant or two each spring, and I get recommendations from people who know Sarasota.
One I’m eager to try is La Mucca Ballerina, a highly rated Italian restaurant on Main Street in downtown Sarasota. It’s described as “a cozy, casual, family-run spot with incredibly delicious Italian food.”
Fans of Greek found recommend Blu Kozina, also in St. Armands, which I also haven’t been to. Another I’m eager to try is the St. Armands Oyster Bar.
My favorite restaurant in Sarasota is Owens Fish Camp, which doesn’t take reservations and has long lines. Other favorites include Dry Dock on Longboat Key, Shore Diner, Speaks Clam Bar and Columbia (Cuban food) all in St. Armands, Siesta Key Oyster Bar, Circo for Mexican food and margaritas, Pacific Rim or Yume (Main Street) for sushi, and for Amish-style family dining, Yoder’s.
I have two favorite spots for burgers — Patrick’s on Main Street, and Island House Tap and Grill in Siesta Key. Another favorite is Blue Marlin on Bradenton Beach, which fills up quickly so make your reservations now. During conference and NCAA tournament time, Duffy’s in Sarasota has dozens of televisions, sports memorabilia and avid fans.
Call for questions: I’ll be answering Orioles questions in the coming days. Please email them to: [email protected]
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB