"I see it as nothing but a very positive and major step towards our development as an organization," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley, who had long advocated such a move. "I see it as a very positive thing for our players, coaches, staff and fans -- everyone. It will just be something that has been long overdue."
Baltimore signed a lease to play in Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium for the next 30 seasons, and extensive renovation work will be done on the big league and Minor League facilities after the 2010 Spring Training season. The Orioles will get several bonuses out of the move, including easier travel and more variety in teams they play.
The Orioles were fed a steady diet of the Cardinals and Marlins over the past few years, which made sense because of their close proximity to the Jupiter, Fla., facility those two teams share. Now, Baltimore will have a wide array of Florida cities it can visit, beginning with but not limited to Bradenton, Lakeland, Tampa, Clearwater and Dunedin.
Baltimore may even get to see its division rivals more often, thanks to the move. The Orioles usually played the Red Sox and Yankees once or twice a spring, but now they'll almost certainly get to see the Blue Jays and Rays. Veteran catcher Gregg Zaun dismissed that, though, saying it doesn't provide much of an advantage.
"Maybe from a standpoint of the guys you've never faced, like the young guys coming up," Zaun said Wednesday. "You get a chance to see arm slot and movement on the ball. But people pitch completely different in Spring Training than they do in the regular season. The veterans are out there working on stuff, and the bullpen guys are working on things they weren't able to do the year before. When it comes down to it, when the season starts, everyone goes back to doing what got them there and what made them most successful. For me, its not that big a deal."
Having said that, Zaun also said seeing division rivals so often could hurt more than it actually helps.
"You can see adjustments that people have made over the winter, like whether they're working on a completely different approach at the plate," he said. "And now everybody knows. It's not like they wouldn't already, because there are scouts in the stands, but when teams get a preseason look at what you're doing, they have a better idea of how to take care of you on the first day of the regular season. But it really isn't that much of a factor."
While based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the Orioles often had to make drives of more than two hours to visit cities like Fort Myers, Vero Beach, Viera and Port St. Lucie. A lot of the travel time will be cut down now, and Trembley said that the main advantage is having his Minor Leaguers in the same town as his big league team.
Previously, the two sides were separated by more than 200 miles, which introduced several challenges. Trembley took some time to enumerate the differences and how they could make an immediate impact on his team.
"For one, you won't have to bring so many guys to camp, so your Spring Training should be run a lot more efficiently," Trembley said. "Two, you'll have everybody in the same location. I think there will be a definite sense of camaraderie and identity of the Baltimore Orioles, and there won't be a separation of Major League and Minor League. It will just be the Baltimore Orioles, which I think is what we've tried to do since I've been here. Third, if we need to send a pitcher to pitch in a Triple-A game or bring a guy up to see him, it's much easier to get our work in."
And that doesn't just apply to the coaches who are doing their evaluations, it also applies to the players on the field. Zaun, one of the team's most experienced players, said his load will be lightened considerably by sharing the same city as his Minor League peers. And in turn, the Minor Leaguers will be better for the opportunity.
"It gives us a lot more flexibility and guys are able to get a lot more work," Zaun said. "Consequently, some of your more veteran players don't have to hang around the ballpark as long on the days that they're not playing. There will be more Minor Leaguers to play late in games, which makes it a win-win for everybody."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.