Orioles leaving lasting impact on Sarasota community

Over the past few years, the Orioles have been rejuvenated.

Since 2012, the team has recaptured its historic success, including postseason appearances in two of the last four seasons and a division championship in 2014, the team's first since 1997.

There's no doubt that Birdland is back, and fans are excited at the promise of coming to Camden Yards to watch the Orioles contend for a World Series championship.

Yet 1,000 miles away - just a quick 15 1/2-hour drive down Interstate 95 and a hard right across the Sunshine State - the recent Orioles success is having a similar impact on Sarasota, Fla. It's where the Orioles have called spring training home for the past seven years. And even in that short time, it's a town that has seen a noticeable growth on the community and its residents.

It can be an easy notion to dismiss the idea of spring training. After all, the baseball season is a grind, and at 162 games, easily the longest single season in professional sports. So when teams around Major League Baseball begin their annual trek to their temporary homes in Florida and Arizona for spring training, the majority of the baseball world is still wielding snow shovels and dreaming of warmer days ahead.

Yet for those in Sarasota, February and March are a chance for fans and residents to begin the promise of spring and the sense of renewal that seems to be encapsulated with the start of each new baseball campaign.

The success of Orioles spring training in Sarasota has been remarkable since the team moved there prior to the 2010 season. More than 765,000 fans have come out to see the Orioles play, highlighted by a whopping 119,029 fans in 2016. The number of visitors to Sarasota from the mid-Atlantic region has jumped dramatically, including a 128 percent increase from 2014 to 2015.

In just the first three months of 2015, more than 25,000 fans from the mid-Atlantic region made the journey to Sarasota County. A chance to escape the bitter winds of winter up north coupled with the opportunity watch Orioles baseball? Talk about an easy sell. In fact, business has been so positive that the Orioles are now the No. 1 source of tourism for Sarasota and the No. 1 tourist generator of any sports facility in the area.

Of course, while the rising number of fans each year makes for more fun at Ed Smith Stadium, the real benefit has been the economic impact the Orioles have on the Sarasota community. It may seem like a small gesture - having fans travel down for a few weeks just to watch some baseball - but each year the Orioles' economic impact on Sarasota is more than $81 million. Those profits, in turn, have allowed the Orioles to donate more than $2.6 million in cash and various contributions to the community.

It's a partnership that is growing stronger each season. For fans, it's a chance to usher in the feeling of spring and catch a glimpse of the latest and greatest Orioles team. And for the Sarasota community, it's an opportunity to connect with baseball fans from the mid-Atlantic and boost a town that, like so many, relies on out-of-town visitors to thrive.

A win-win situation, indeed.


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