We know that the Baltimore Orioles have to work extra hard at winning over the hearts and minds of the mid-Atlantic region with the Washington Nationals right down the pike. And for the most part I would submit that they do a good job of that. However in a few short years they might have to do the same in Sarasota during spring training.
According to this article, it appears that the Birds will have a neighbor in Sarasota starting in 2019. The Atlanta Braves are planning to build a state-of-the-art facility which is expected to cost $75-$80 million. Atlanta of course has made their spring home Disney’s Wide World of Sports for the past 19 years in Atlanta. They’re planning to move for the same reason the Orioles did; to cut down on travel costs. All of the teams in the Florida Grapefruit League are either on the east or west coast of the state – the Braves were kind of isolated in Orlando.
However since moving to Sarasota, we’ve all seen how the local community has embraced the Orioles. And that’s partially due to the fact that the Orioles really spent a lot of money renovating Ed Smith Stadium, and embedding themselves in the Sarasota community. People felt like they had as much a stake in the team as the fans of Baltimore did. In fact I’ve met numerous fans who have journeyed up to Baltimore to catch the Birds at Camden Yards from the Sarasota area.
So will interest in the Orioles wane with a new team coming to town? It’s tough to say. On one hand the connection with the Sarasota community was almost instantaneous – and again that’s due in large part to the club embedding itself in the community right away. So in that sense one might say that the Sarasota community wouldn’t turn it’s back on the Orioles.
However in the same respect, I think you’ll see the same phenomenon as existed when Washington got a team back. There’ll be a certain novelty to Atlanta being in town, along with a brand new park. Furthmore my understanding is that their intention is to operate the park year-around, similar to what the Orioles do with Ed Smith Stadium.
At the end of the day, some would argue that competition isn’t a bad thing. And it’s probably not. Quite frankly, both teams have more important things to worry about than the hearts and minds of Sarasota residents. The O’s have played Atlanta several times over the past few springs, so one would think that trend will continue even more so given the fact that the two teams are going to be so close.
Incidentally, it’s not uncommon for teams to share towns in a sense for spring training. The Boston Red Sox and Minneosta Twins used to share a facility in Fort Myers – but now they just share the town. And starting this year the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals will be sharing the new Ballpark of the Palms in West Palm Beach. In essence, the idea is to get your work in first, and win the hearts and minds of the community second.