A month from now, these stories will start with “SARASOTA, Fla.” It’s my favorite time of year.
I’m tired of winter, and there’s still two months left, but only a month to go until spring training begins. Perhaps two dozen Orioles will gather in Sarasota on Monday for a four-day minicamp.
That’s not open to the public. A month later, they can start watching.
On Feb. 13, pitchers and catchers will report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex. While position players are set to report a few days later, many will be there from the first day and most will join in quickly.
The first two weeks of workouts on the back fields of the complex are free. A few hundred fans will watch infield drills, batting practice and if they look hard, some bullpen sessions, too.
On Feb. 28, the Orioles play their first exhibition game, at Port Charlotte against Tampa Bay, and prior to that, they often play one or two intrasquad games at Ed Smith Stadium. Those are not open to the public.
Games in Sarasota begin on Mar. 1 and conclude on Mar. 27. If you’re planning to go, it’s a great place to watch games, and a wonderful area to visit.
The only disadvantage is that you must fly to Tampa. There’s an airport in Sarasota located just across the street from many hotels, and 10 minutes from the ballpark, but no direct flights from Baltimore.
Southwest has several nonstops a day, and they’re not expensive. There are lots of hotel options, and if the weather’s nice, many things to do besides watching baseball.
There’s great shopping at St. Armand’s Circle, about 15 minutes from the ballpark and terrific restaurants are nearly everywhere.
When the Orioles came to Sarasota in 2010 after 14 springs in Fort Lauderdale, I discovered grouper and stone crabs.
Grouper is available most everywhere, but if you go to Clearwater, about an hour away, Frenchy’s is a great hangout, and they claim to have invented the Grouper Rueben.
In Sarasota, two of my favorites are Barnacle Bill’s with a pair of locations and the Drydock on Longboat Key, not far from St. Armand’s Circle.
Discovering stone crabs, which are a cross between Maryland blue crabs and lobster, was the highlight of my 2011 spring training. Moore’s, at the end of Longboat Key, is my choice, though I keep hearing promising things about Captain Brian’s, which is right near the airport.
Another highlight is getting annual recommendations of new restaurants in town from Gary Thorne, the Orioles’ broadcaster, who lives in Sarasota. Among Thorne’s recent choices are Darwin’s on 4th for Peruvian as well as craft beers and Nancy’s Bar-B-Q near downtown. Nancy’s is a casual barbecue joint with great sandwiches.
Thirteen of the Orioles’ 15 home games are during the day, so there’s plenty of time for dining at night.
If the weather permits, there are some beautiful beaches: Lido and Siesta. Lido is just steps from St. Armand’s Circle and Siesta about a 20-minute drive from the ballpark. Lots of good eating choices there, too.
For the adults, there are great cultural choices. Museums and theatre are convenient, and if you want to combine Disney with baseball, the Magic Kingdom is about two hours away.
But, you want to talk baseball. The best thing about the Orioles’ move to Sarasota was its convenience to other teams.
Just 20 minutes away are the Pittsburgh Pirates, who surprised many with an exciting 2013 season. The Pirates are in Bradenton and play at McKechnie Field. The Orioles visit on Mar. 10 and 20.
Port Charlotte, which doesn’t have a lot of attractions, is a little less than an hour away, and the Orioles play Tampa Bay there three times.
The Red Sox and Twins are both in Fort Myers, an easy 90-minute drive. The Orioles play each of them three times.
There are two games in Tampa against the Yankees, and one each in Clearwater (Phillies) and Dunedin (Blue Jays). Tampa and Clearwater are about an hour away, Dunedin about 80 minutes.
Spring training games are more relaxed. For the first couple of weeks, regulars play perhaps five innings, and players you’re not familiar with finish up. It’s not a bad idea to familiarize yourself with some of them because they may be called up later in the season.
You don’t have to worry about games going too long. If there’s a tie after 10 innings, the game ends.
If you want to watch the Yankees or Red Sox in Sarasota, don’t be surprised if those teams bring no-name lineups. Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters may play just one or two road games.
Have a great time and be sure and stop by to say hello.