The World Series hasn’t yet begun. Spring training is still nearly four months away, but you can already start planning your Sarasota getaway.
The Orioles don’t usually announce their spring training schedule until later in the fall, so it was a most pleasant surprise when it showed up just one day after stone crab season began.
Stone crabs are in season from Oct. 15-May 15, and it’s always a joy to eat them a few times during our time in Sarasota.
More about that later, but first there’s business to discuss.
The Orioles are expected to report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex around Feb. 13. About two weeks of workouts will precede the first scheduled exhibition game on Feb. 28 at Port Charlotte against Tampa Bay.
It’s possible that a game or two against a local college will be added before the Orioles play the Rays. Other teams have scheduled games as early as Feb. 26. In the past few years, the Orioles have played local colleges near the end of their schedules. If it happens this year, it’s likely to occur prior to their exhibition schedule.
Seventeen of the Orioles’ 30 games are against AL East teams. It’s perhaps the only disadvantage of the Orioles’ location. The Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays are all within 90 minutes.
Manager Buck Showalter hates seeing AL East opponents frequently, and once the first week or two of the schedule is over, he’ll send starting pitchers to the Twin Lakes Complex to pitch in minor league games. He doesn’t want the AL East to see Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen or Miguel Gonzalez during March if he can help it.
The Orioles’ last three spring games are against the Red Sox and Rays. With 10 of their first 19 regular season games against them, Showalter will not be happy about his pitching schedule. Especially irksome will be split-squad games on the penultimate day of spring training when the Orioles have to play both Boston and Tampa Bay.
Some managers don’t strategize the same way Showalter does. Joe Maddon threw David Price against the Orioles in his final tuneup of last spring not caring that Price would start on Opening Day against Baltimore. For the record, Price was dazzling in the exhibition start and struggled on Opening Day.
For the second straight year, the Orioles don’t have to travel far. Not only are the AL East foes close by, but the Phillies (Clearwater), Twins (Fort Myers) and Pirates (Bradenton) are also close.
Atlanta plays at Ed Smith Stadium on March 21, but the Orioles don’t have to play at the Disney Complex. In their five years in Sarasota, the Orioles have made just one visit there.
They don’t play Detroit or Houston. In the first three years at Sarasota, the Orioles and Tigers played twice, but haven’t played since. That’s a shame because Lakeland’s Joker Marchant Stadium is one of the best places to watch spring ball.
In 2011, the Orioles and Astros played a home-and-home series. The trip to Kissimmee is brutal, nearly 2 ½ hours. Houston is scheduled to relocate its spring home to Palm Beach Gardens in a few years, and Toronto may join them.
Last year, the Orioles and Pirates played six times. A seventh was rained out. This year, they’ll play four times, twice in Bradenton, about 20 minutes way, and two more times in Sarasota.
There will be three split-squad days. On March 8, the Orioles play the Red Sox at Fort Myers in the afternoon and at Sarasota in the evening. The Orioles’ only trip to Clearwater to play the Phillies is on March 17, and that evening Minnesota plays in Sarasota. On March 27, the Orioles play the Rays at Port Charlotte in the afternoon and the Boston at Fort Myers in the evening.
March 18 is the Orioles’ only off day. If you want to know the ideal time for a Sarasota trip, it’s probably right after that. Regulars play more of the game, and will make an occasional road trip then. Starters go deeper in the games, and many young players have already been sent to Twin Lakes, so the competition is keener.
If you want to see players who may be with the Orioles later in the season or in 2015, come for early games. Those players will stay with the Orioles for the first week or two before joining their minor league counterparts.
And, if you want to get stone crabs, my favorite place is Moore’s at the end of Longboat Key. For trips to Clearwater or Dunedin, you may find me at Frenchy’s for their grouper sandwiches. Come January we’ll have lots to talk about. In the meantime, there are still lots of Orioles moves to discuss.