SARASOTA—No correlation has ever been found between the opulence of a team's spring training facility and its regular-season record. However, if there is just a thing then the Orioles become the pick to go from worst to first in the American League East this season.
The Orioles unveiled the renovated Ed Smith Stadium on Tuesday afternoon when they beat the Rays 12-6 in a Grapefruit League game and it was quite a sight. Long one of the most Spartan of spring training stadiums, Ed Smith has been redone from head to toe as it now has a grand entranceway that includes a café and gift shop, a large video board in right field, luxury suites, a tiki bar in left field and other amenities that have become standard in recent years around the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues.
"You certainly can't ask for anything better than this," said Buck Showalter, the Orioles' manager and a noted perfectionist. "You can tell they put a lot of thought in it to make it comfortable for the fans. It's very impressive."
The new stadium is the latest in a series of improvements Sarasota made to its facilities since the Reds left town two years ago to share a complex in Goodyear, Arizona with the Indians. The city also upgraded the Orioles' clubhouse and training facilities and gave a total makeover to the Twin Lakes minor-league complex a few miles away.
It marks quite a change for the Orioles, who switched spring training headquarters from Fort Lauderdale to Sarasota last year. For 14 years, the Orioles held their major-league spring training at antiquated Fort Lauderdale Stadium and their minor-league camp in Sarasota. No other club had a situation even remotely close to the Orioles in which their major-leaguers and minor-leaguers trained 215 miles apart.
"We're very pleased with our facilities and feel they are as good as anyone's," vice president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said.
"Having a facility like this isn't going to win you more games but it does put you in a better frame of mind," Showalter said. "Anything you can do to eliminate any negatives is helpful. For a long time, spring training was a negative for the Orioles. Now, it's a positive."
There was much political haggling before the city came through with funds to renovate the stadium. Winning pitcher Jeremy Guthrie was appreciated of the effort it took get an improved spring home.
"It's a tribute to the Orioles and a tribute to Sarasota," Guthrie said. "I know there was a lot of work done by the community to get this stadium built and there was opposition. Hopefully, the people of the area can take a lot of pride in it and look at it as a gift to themselves."