With questions mounting surrounding the Orioles’ direction this offseason, the franchise has often found itself the subject of criticism through the 2017-2018 Winter season. There really isn’t a consensus about exactly what ownership and management are trying to accomplish at present, and the on-field product will likely leave much to be desired.
One thing that there does seem to be some level of consensus on, however, is the fact that the Birds have a marvelous stadium in which to play ball. Oriole Park at Camden Yards frequently ranks near the top of all MLB stadiums—even being ranked the best North American Stadium experience three years in a row (2014-2016) by Stadium Journey.
Ed Smith Stadium, located in Sarasota, Florida, became the Spring home of the Baltimore Orioles (for a second time) in 2010 (to present). Since that time, the stadium has drawn quite a bit of praise itself, with USA Today ranking it the top Spring Training stadium—by fan experience—just four days ago.
Any Orioles fan who has a chance to make it down to Sarasota during MLB Spring Training absolutely should, and here’s why:
The Architecture/ Extra Touches
Sporting the perfect blend of all things baseball, all things Orioles, all things OPACY, and all things Florida, Ed Smith Stadium impresses from the moment you walk-up and see the gorgeous facade.
Florida-Spanish architecture makes the stadium blend beautifully into a mature community in downtown Sarasota, but it doesn’t take long to notice the uniquely OPACY touches that make the ballpark a true hybrid beauty.
The main gate is done in the same style as gates that adorn and define OPACY, while several neat installations and works of wall art boast the Orioles’ accomplishments as a franchise.
The stadium itself comes to feel entirely reminiscent of Orioles Park at Camden Yards, exhibiting the exact dimensions, trademark green seats (that were actually taken from OPACY during a renovation), and batter’s eye as up North.
The Player Access
The single-level concourse is one welcome departure from OPACY that causes an entirely different experience at Ed Smith Stadium—an experience that is intimate in nature. The team bullpen is right next to a picnic area, and there is nothing stopping any person from getting close enough to touch (not recommended!) the players within.
In fact, on one trip to Sarasota, this writer personally spotted Dan Duquette strolling around the concourse near the bullpen area, and had a chance to chat for a moment like old friends. This probably isn’t a common occurrence, but gives an idea of the different feel one gets during a Spring Training game—you’re never going to be behind Dan Duquette in line for Boog’s BBQ up North.
The Food/ Shopping
There is one massive team store that sells almost exclusively items unique to Orioles Spring Training. You can’t get your typical player jersey here—but you wouldn’t want to once you’ve seen the assortment of hats, polo shirts, t-shirts, and even golf club covers that make this store truly one of a kind.
The one major let-down is that there is no Boog’s BBQ South, but really, the Spring Training stadium isn’t meant to be a carbon copy of OPACY. Outside of not finding delicious pit meats, you’ll still encounter Maryland favorites like crab cakes and Esskay hotdogs. There is just enough on offer to give hints of Baltimore while not trying too hard to actually be Baltimore.
Every Seat is a Good Seat
As previously mentioned, there is only one level around this gem of a stadium. This is par for the course insofar as Spring Training stadiums, and adds to the prior discussed intimacy in the overall fan experience.
If one were especially bold or obnoxiously inebriated, it would be easy to try and have a conversation with the players from just about any seat in the house. The stadium’s capacity is 8,500, and while still exciting, there is no overwhelming roar of the crowd to drown out your individual voice.
This guide is by no means exhaustive, as Ed Smith Stadium is quirky and intricate enough that it’s impossible to discover all it has to offer on one—or even several trips. This stadium surely has plenty to recommend it—not the least of which are the Florida sunsets and 70-80 degree weather in the middle of February and March.
All photos courtesy of Donovan Moore