Monday, October 20, 2008

O's Spring Training in Ft. Lauderdale for '09...But Then What?

I got a notice in my e-mail informing me that Orioles Spring Training is just around the corner! Pitchers and catchers will report before you know it! (At this point, the obvious joke is, "What pitchers?" but I'll refrain. Oh, and there's only one catcher anyone will be watching at ST 2009...)

Spring Training will remain in Ft. Lauderdale...for this year. I've talked about this before but I am all for the Orioles leaving Ft. Lauderdale for a more attractive location. Ft. Lauderdale is a) a dump, b) so small that the O's minor league camp is across the state in Sarasota and c) is still painted with Yankee colors, the field's previous tenants.

The obvious and attractive choice would be to move into the historic Dodgertown facility in Vero Beach that the Dodgers left vacant after 61 years of spending Spring Training there. But as Ray McNulty opined in the TCPalm, that may not be the only option:

...if the Orioles decide this month to move their spring-training operation to Vero Beach in 2010 -- it will be on their terms and at their price...

Because our Indian River County representatives, elected and otherwise, have botched this thing from the start.

They've bargained from a position of weakness, rather than strength, conducting these negotiations as if the Orioles held all the cards, as if the team would be doing us a favor...

I have to admit, I'm surprised that the county would be so eager to keep a team in Vero Beach. I've always understood that the area has a lot of wealth and that they wouldn't be in a big hurry to have another team move in. But this must be good for the Orioles, right? What did they get by dealing from a perceived position of strength?

They've given the Orioles the upper hand -- first by signing a ridiculously one-sided exclusivity agreement under which the team could continue to talk to Fort Lauderdale but the county couldn't talk to any other teams, then by extending the deadline for accepting their offer until Halloween, thus allowing these negotiations to drag on far too long.

Worse, they've allowed Orioles owner Peter Angelos to use the county's pitch as leverage in simultaneous negotiations with Fort Lauderdale, his team's current spring-training headquarters.

And now that the exclusivity agreement with Indian River County has expired, Angelos is free to talk to any other community interested in becoming the Orioles' spring-training home.

He can talk to Fort Myers, which could lose the Boston Red Sox to Sarasota.
He can talk to Sarasota, which lost the Cincinnati Reds to Arizona and is sure to call the Orioles, if the Red Sox stay in Fort Myers.

So Angelos has options.

If Angelos is truly deeply involved in these negotiations, I have to grudgingly say he's doing a masterful job.

He's going to parlay substandard Spring Training facilities into a) a brand new facility in Ft. Lauderdale, b) a beautiful and historic facility in Vero Beach or c) reunite the whole organization (major and minor league) in Sarasota where the minor league camp is right now. (for now, the Red Sox look like they're staying in Fort Myers....)

If so, there's still a chance the Orioles will bring spring training back to Vero Beach.

But because of the way this thing has been handled, it will be on their terms and at their price.

Lucky us, huh?

So Indian River County may get held hostage by Peter Angelos? Welcome to the world of an Oriole fan, Mr. McNulty.

So where are the Orioles in spring of 2010? In order of likeliness, I'd say Vero Beach, then Sarasota, then the new Ft. Lauderdale facility.

Personal preference? My sister moved across the state to Fort Myers so Sarasota would be excellent. Then Vero Beach and lastly Ft. Lauderdale.

Vero Beach has extended the deadline to Halloween. By the end of the month, at least one option will be eliminated.

No comments: