Ed Smith Stadium voted top spring training venue

Anyone who's been lucky enough to watch an Orioles game there understands that Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla., is a uniquely wonderful ballpark.

It doesn't matter whether you're sunning yourself in the box seats, grabbing something to eat on the concourse or stationed in the left field picnic area awaiting a home run ball to fly your way. Ed Smith Stadium is gem, possessing a retro feel in its comfy configurations and delivering the intimate game-watching experience that fans crave.

People have taken note, and a recent study conducted for USA Today has ranked Ed Smith Stadium as the top venue among spring training sites in Florida and Arizona.

Thumbnail image for Ed Smith Stadium.jpgReviewTrackers, a data-mining firm in Chicago, conducted a study that analyzed the comments in 36,000 online reviews of the 23 stadiums used for Grapefruit and Cactus League games, tracking how fans felt about facilities, food and drink offerings, and the overall experience for fans and families. The findings were published in US Today's Spring Training Preview section, available Feb. 21-27.

Not bad for a spring training ballpark that was lacking a tenant after the Reds moved to Arizona when local voters rejected a bond proposal to rebuild the stadium in 2008. The Orioles moved their spring operations there from Fort Lauderdale in 2010 and have since become a valued year-round presence in the Sarasota community.

Orioles executive vice president John Angelos told USA Today that architect David Schwarz deserves the credit for coming up with the new design for Ed Smith Stadium, which has at various times been the spring home of the White Sox, Reds and Orioles since opening in 1989.

"He came up with the idea to wrap the double facade around that old stadium structure and to go with what he called 'Florida Picturesque' with a kind of turn-of-the-century look with Spanish influence," Angelos said. "When you look at the before and after pictures, what he came up with was amazing."

In the eight years since the Orioles moved major league spring training to Sarasota, more than 885,000 fans have enjoyed Orioles games at Ed Smith Stadium. An independent analysis commissioned by Sarasota County Government concluded that the Orioles generate approximately $97 million in annual economic impact back to taxpayers and residents.

By marketing Sarasota to fans in the mid-Atlantic region, operating a year-round athletic training facility, producing entertainment and sporting events, partnering with charitable causes, and hosting and often subsidizing youth sports tournaments and activities, the Orioles demonstrate an abiding commitment to their Florida home that goes far beyond baseball. For details, visit www.orioles.com/Sarasota.

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