ST. PETERSBURG -- Come mid-February, the Orioles will officially unveil an entirely different Spring Training experience.
"The stadium looks beautiful, right on schedule," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who, along with president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, was part of a small contingent which made the short trip to Sarasota, Fla., prior to Tuesday's Rays-Orioles game to check out the multi-million dollar renovations.
Showalter, who last visited Ed Smith Stadium while working in the Cleveland Indians organization three years ago, said he was struck by the sketch of the finished product, which brings together an old Floridian look with state-of-the-art accommodations.
"It will be really neat for the fans," Showalter said. "Baseball functionality was the only thing I was really looking at. And it's going to function real well. Obviously, a lot of time and effort was put into it."
The group also toured the Minor League facility at the nearby Buck O'Neil Baseball Complex at Twin Lakes Park, and Showalter had high praise for the work put in by Orioles vice president of planning and development Janet Marie Smith, who has also had a hand in renovating Fenway Park and building Camden Yards.
The Orioles moved their Major League Spring Training operations from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to Sarasota last season, with the promise of a newly renovated facility, both at Ed Smith and Twin Lakes. Prior to last season, the organization had to work with a Minor League camp that was three hours away and considerably run down. The expectation now is the only part of the project that won't be completed by the time the players report is the renovation of the building where the Orioles' clubhouse and offices are located. That will start after Spring Training, and the O's will share a clubhouse with the Minor League operations for the time being, a small nuance given that the fields and the rest of the complex will be done.
"Is that the deciding factor on winning baseball games? No," Showalter said of having an updated facility that is also geographically convenient. "But it eliminates a lot of excuses, the logistics of rehab and everything."