Sarasota is a gift Peter Angelos left the Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

Sarasota is a gift Peter Angelos left the Orioles

Photo Credit: Rich Dubroff

In the aftermath of the death of longtime owner Peter Angelos a week ago, there were plenty of stories about the good he did for Baltimore and his many anonymous acts of charity. His tussles with onetime manager Davey Johnson and longtime Orioles broadcaster Jon Miller were recounted.

So was the team’s record under his ownership. After initial success following his 1993 purchase, the team endured 14 consecutive losing seasons.

The Orioles eschewed the Latin American player market under Angelos. He found the system distasteful and it wasn’t until after he took ill in late 2017 that his son John gave the go-ahead to re-enter Latin America and recruited and hired Mike Elias to run baseball operations that the team became a presence internationally. They Orioles even opened an acclaimed new headquarters in the Dominican Republic in January.

The team’s fortunes began turning around after the elder Angelos hired Andy MacPhail as its top baseball officer in 2007. Three years later, MacPhail hired Buck Showalter, and the Orioles made three playoff appearances from 2012-2016.

By then, Peter Angelos was largely absent from public involvement with the team, but he left his son and David Rubenstein, who formally bought controlling interest of the team this week, a great gift, one that’s helped the team immeasurably.

In 2010, the Orioles left decrepit Fort Lauderdale Stadium for Sarasota, and each year that decision looks better and better.

From 1996-2009, the Orioles trained in Fort Lauderdale while their minor leaguers trained at their current location, Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota. The 200-mile trip made it unwieldy to shuttle players, and the Orioles closest opponents, the Cardinals and Marlins, trained about 60 miles away in Jupiter.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, in Vero Beach, the New York Mets, in Port St. Lucie, and the Washington Nationals, in Viera, were even farther away, and their trips across the state to Fort Myers to play Boston and Minnesota were longer still.

The Orioles liked the South Florida location but couldn’t get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to expand their cramped and shabby training facility. Fort Lauderdale Stadium stood next to a busy private airport.

Angelos negotiated with Vero Beach, which was losing the Dodgers to Arizona. Vero Beach was charming, but it also was an outdated facility.

In the end, the Orioles made the best choice when the Cincinnati Reds decided to leave Sarasota for Arizona in 2009.

The Orioles moved in 2010, and renovations were completed in time for spring training 2011. While Ed Smith Stadium has some shortcomings, the area is by far the best in Florida for spring training.

There was plenty to do in Fort Lauderdale, but many longtime residents didn’t even know there was spring training baseball there after the Yankees left for Tampa in 1996.

Spring training was relatively unimportant economically to Fort Lauderdale, and no team has replaced the Orioles. The old stadium no longer exists.

Regular readers know how fond I am of spring training in Sarasota. Having been to almost every part of Florida, I’m convinced it’s the state’s nicest area. There are plenty of great restaurants, and the selection gets larger and more diverse each year, and plenty to do besides watch baseball games, though I don’t get much of a chance to do so.

The Orioles are a big deal in Sarasota. There are signs everywhere welcoming the team and you can’t miss Oriole fans going around town wearing team gear.

What I didn’t appreciate until much later was its ideal location. Writers who cover other teams often remind us how far they have to drive for their team’s games.

The Red Sox and Twins, in Fort Myers, must travel three hours or more to face the Yankees, in Tampa, Phillies, in Clearwater, or the Blue Jays, in Dunedin.

The Orioles don’t have a trip that’s longer than 90 minutes, though trips from Dunedin or Lakeland (Tigers) may be longer because of heavy traffic.

There are three teams — the Pirates, Braves and Rays — whose ballparks are within an hour of Ed Smith Stadium.

The ballpark itself remains charming and serene. The Phillies’ facility is nice, and so are the Red Sox and Twins, and Atlanta’s new home, 40 minutes away in North Port, is lovely. But none has the advantages of Sarasota.

Those may not have been the chief positives that Angelos was looking for when relocating the Orioles’ spring training home, but it’s something he’s left the team and its fans that wasn’t noted upon his passing.

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RAVENS NEWS from BaltimoreSports.com

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