Spring Training means baseball is finally here. An additional perk? It gives us a fantastic reason to leave this bipolar Maryland weather & head down south for some sunshine & palm trees.
This was my second Spring Training trip, but my first time staying in Sarasota. If you’ve never been to Spring Training, I highly suggest making the trek! This is a vacation every baseball fan simply must take at some point in their life.
I attended the first three O’s Spring Training games of the Grapefruit League season. If you remember, they were not the best games to have attended, as the Birds took the L in each.
But hey, the best part is that the games don’t count! What does count? The fun you have and the memories you make. So, here’s my guide to Orioles Spring Training.
Ed Smith Stadium was voted the top spring training venue in the majors according to USA Today. I mean, it’s only fitting considering how amazing Camden Yards is – O’s fans are spoiled no matter which “home” park the team is playing in.
Just like at Camden Yards, parking is $10 at the stadium and you’re able to bring in your own food & (unopened) drinks. Here’s a quick tip: the Florida sun is hot so many people bring sunscreen. If you’re going to bring sunscreen, make sure it’s not the aerosol type, as that’s not allowed in. When I entered, there were probably eight aerosol cans on sunscreen left at the gate.
Moving on, gates open 2 hours prior to game time. In this time, you’ll be able to watch batting practice, watch the pitchers warm up in the bullpen & maybe even get up close & personal with some of the players along the first base side. Yes, the players do sign autographs but chances are if you’re taller than 4′ and/or older than about 15, you may as well just watch from a distance. Also, you have until about 30 minutes prior to game time to hope for an autograph. The ushers along the first base try to be strict & tell everyone who doesn’t have seats in that section to move away but as soon as one of the starters come up to the fans, everyone flocks back down anyway. Most of those ushers are just retirees who picked up pretty much the best job you can get once you become a snowbird, so they don’t get too worked up about it.
You know how I mentioned the Florida sun being hot? Yeah, keep that in mind when you buy your tickets! If it’s a day game (most are), I highly suggest sitting behind the Orioles’ dugout along the first base side unless you want a pretty sweet farmer’s tan. The “upper deck” seating also has a fair share of shade on both sides. If you’re not afraid of a little sun, the ballpark also has seating & tables out in left field.
Inside the concourse behind home plate is the Orioles Team Store. This store has a great selection of Spring Training apparel, but I would highly suggest visiting during the game. If you go prior to the game starting, I hope you have the patience to deal with people who appear to forget how to walk or move or basically acknowledge anything in their surroundings that isn’t for sale. Shop once the action on the field begins – trust me.
Now let’s get to one of the most important things to know about Ed Smith Stadium: where the good beer is located. With the concourse being a lot smaller than the one we are used to at Camden Yards, it makes it easy to get to the beer more quickly. Just a few steps away from the Orioles Team Store along the third base side, there is a craft beer stand that has a better selection than most bars. Most of their beers are in cans (so if you’re a beer drinking rookie, then don’t forget to bring a koozie) but they do have some great beers on draft. I opted for the SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale (one of my all time favorites) and then had one of the employees suggest an IPA for my next beer. He suggested the Elysian Space Dust IPA. Great suggestion!
I stayed on the beach in Lido Key, which worked out perfectly as we were within walking distance to St. Armand’s Circle. This area has a selection of shops & restaurants and is a great place to spend your evening. If you’re like me & are a fan of tacos and margaritas, I highly suggest Catrina’s Tacos and Tequila.
For drinks, our go to was Cha Cha Coconuts & the Daiquiri Deck, but if you’re going to be visiting during the week, be prepared to call it an early night because everywhere pretty much closes at midnight or earlier. Sarasota is a great area but if you’re staying along the beach, traffic can get a little downtown Baltimore rush hour-ish. So keep that in mind and give yourself plenty of time to get to the game.
If you’re not able to catch an Orioles Spring Training game this season, keep an eye out for the schedule next year. I also attended the Orioles/Red Sox game at JetBlue Stadium in Fort Myers, which has an awesome mini green monster & a stupid Big Papi lego statue. Unfortunately, Fort Myers isn’t a quick trip from Sarasota, but if you’re looking to visit multiple Spring Training venues, I would suggest catching a Pittsburgh Pirates game at LECOM Park in Bradenton, just a few minutes north of Sarasota.
24 more days until Opening Day, ya’ll.