With snow falling and temperatures cool, it’s hard to realize that spring training begins in a little more than six weeks. Pitchers and catchers report to Ed Smith Stadium on Feb. 12 for the start of Orioles’ spring training.
The Orioles have trained in Sarasota since 2010. After a stadium refurbishment in 2011, the venue was arguably the best in Florida. After years in horrid Fort Lauderdale Stadium, it was a huge upgrade.
As we get closer to spring training, we’ll look at the joys of Sarasota in greater detail, but before we do, let’s look at:
Five spring training sites you have to see:
1) McKechnie Field-Bradenton
It’s old and charming. In many ways, it’s the way spring training was in Florida before Arizona became a serious challenger for teams. Sitting in an area of Bradenton that’s not terribly attractive, the Pittsburgh Pirates' McKechnie Field is about 20 minutes away from Sarasota.
The Orioles play there four times this spring: Feb. 26, Mar. 8, 11 and 24. It’s an ideal place to watch a spring training road game. The park is reminiscent of old ones, built around existing streets. Concessions aren’t impressive, but it’s relaxed.
One of the great advantages of the Orioles being in Sarasota is the closeness of other teams. For games in Bradenton, the Orioles often work out in Sarasota then take the short drive over.
2) Bright House Field-Clearwater
The Orioles play just once there this spring. On March 17, they’ll play a split-squad game in Clearwater while the rest of the team is playing in Sarasota against the Twins.
The Phillies have a lovely ballpark. It’s a little larger than some of the others. It has wide aisles and good concessions. Even though it’s far south of Philadelphia, yes, cheesesteaks are available.
Clearwater is a little over an hour from Sarasota and about 15 minutes away from the Blue Jays’ spring home in Dunedin.
3) Joker Marchant Stadium-Lakeland
Sadly the Orioles won’t be playing there this spring. In their previous three springs, they visited Lakeland to play the Tigers once. About an hour and 20 minutes away from Sarasota, Lakeland is on the way to Orlando.
A most charming, if remote ballpark named after a local parks and recreation director, Joker Marchant Stadium has been home to the Tigers since 1966. It was renovated in 2003, and it’s probably the most intimate ballpark in Florida.
Even though Lakeland isn’t terribly attractive, there’s a terrific restaurant, Harry’s about five minutes away from the ballpark in the town’s quaint downturn.
4) Hammond Stadium-Fort Myers
A friendly ballpark about 90 minutes south of Sarasota, the home of the Minnesota Twins draws polite and large crowds. There’s lots of greenery near the park, which is less than 10 minutes from the Red Sox’s new home.
The Orioles play there three times this spring: Feb. 28, Mar. 13 and 26.
5) JetBlue Park-Fort Myers
The Red Sox will begin their second season at JetBlue Park. Boston calls it “Fenway South,” and yes, it does have its own version of the Green Monster.
The visiting clubhouse is like Fenway’s, too. Very cramped. The Orioles will be there March 9 and 19.
There’s a tremendous appetite for baseball in southwest Florida. The Nationals have been talking with Lee County about moving their spring training home from Viera to Fort Myers.
About 15 minutes from their new home, the location the Red Sox abandoned in downtown Fort Myers needs some refurbishment. Adding the Nationals to the West Coast mix would give the Orioles nine opponents within 90 minutes.
The Rays, Yankees and Blue Jays are also within easy driving distance.