Spring is officially in the air.  The Sun is shining brighter, the temps are in the 70s and 80s, and it’s a perfect day for baseball…

Oh, that’s right!  The weather is still crappy and cold up north.  That means it’s time for you to plan your trip to see your Baltimore Orioles in sunny Sarasota for some Spring Training baseball!  In my opinion, there is absolutely no better time to visit Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The Orioles moved their Major League Spring Training home to Sarasota from Ft. Lauderdale in 2010.  Along with an upgrade in the facility itself, moving to Sarasota provided Oriole fans with a great opportunity to easily travel with the team for road contests or simply to check out the other Grapefruit League sites around Florida.

As a resident of the Tampa Bay area year-round, here is my local perspective on some of the Spring Training locales, starting with the Orioles’ own Ed Smith Stadium and touching on a few of the other notable sites within reasonable driving distance.  I’ve added links where possible, so you can learn more about each place I mention.

Ed Smith Stadium – Home of the Baltimore Orioles

Orioles Spring Training - Ed Smith Stadium

Spring Training Info from Orioles.com

The Orioles have done a fantastic job upgrading Ed Smith Stadium and making it a true home for Orioles fans.  For anyone who ever made the trip to Ft. Lauderdale, Ed Smith has been a major step up with the Orioles owning one of the best fan experiences among Grapefruit League teams.  Nice touches of Baltimore include Esskay hot dogs, Natty Boh beer, crab cakes, and more.

Sarasota offers some great options for activities outside of baseball, so don’t worry about bringing along family members or friends who may not be diehard fans.  The beaches on the Gulf Coast are some of the best you will find in the continental US and the dining and shopping is first class.  Some of the more popular options include:

St. Armands Circle is a great spot for restaurants and shopping.

Yoder’s Amish Village Restaurant is a Sarasota institution and (according to his Twitter account) one of Adam Jones’ favorite restaurants in the area. #StayHungry

Siesta Key has been recognized as the #1 beach in the US by Dr. Beach and, from personal experience, I couldn’t agree more.  The sand is like white powder and the water is incredible.  If you need a beach day while you are in town I can’t recommend Siesta Key enough.  Afterwards, stop by the Daiquiri Deck for libations, seafood, and bathing suit related scenery.

As I mentioned above, the Gulf Coast provides fans with a great opportunity to see more than one Grapefruit League location.  Teams within easy driving distance from Sarasota include the Pirates, Blue Jays, Yankees, Phillies, Rays, Red Sox, and Twins.  Just a little bit farther away you’ll find the TigersBraves and Astros.

If you don’t mind a long drive the Nationals, Mets, Cardinals, and Marlins reside on the east coast of Florida, but be forewarned that it could take you 4 hours plus to make the cross state drive.

Each locale has it’s merits, whether it be a great team facility or a surrounding area.  For detailed information, I’ve linked each team name above to their respective Spring Training information pages on the web.

This Spring, most of the away games for the Orioles happen to be in Ft. Myers (Red Sox/Twins), Port Charlotte (Rays), and Bradenton (Pirates).  Unfortunately, some of my favorite sites are only getting a couple visits by the O’s this Grapefruit League season, below are four of those favorites:

Brighthouse Field in Clearwater – Home of the Philadelphia Phillies

Brighthouse Field

Distance from Sarasota: 52 miles
Games Hosting the Orioles: 1

The Phillies’ Spring Training home, Brighthouse Field, is one of the best ballparks in the Grapefruit League.  There is a bar called Frenchy’s (also a local restaurant chain) located in the left field stands that stays open after the game and the ball girls are Hooters’ waitresses.

Other things to see and do in Clearwater include going to the original Hooters location (hence the ball girls at the park), going to Clearwater Beach, and visiting The Clearwater Marine Aquarium – home of Winter the dolphin from the movie, A Dolphin Tale.

Steinbrenner Field in Tampa – Home of the New York Yankees

Steinbrenner Field

Distance from Sarasota: 57 miles
Games Hosting the Orioles: 2

If you want to check out the Evil Empire, Steinbrenner Field is just up the road in Tampa.  Like much of what the Yankees do, Steinbrenner Field is first class (yes, I hate myself for writing that last sentence).  It’s a mini version of Yankee Stadium and has one of the better ballpark experiences in the Grapefruit League.

After the game you won’t be far from downtown Tampa and Ybor City.  Ybor is the Fells Point or Federal Hill of Tampa where you can enjoy a vibrant bar scene and enjoy fresh hand-rolled cigars.

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin – Home of the Toronto Blue Jays

Florida Auto Exchange Stadium

Distance from Sarasota: 58 miles
Games Hosting the Orioles: 1

Just a few miles north of where the Phillies train in Clearwater you will find the Blue Jays’ home in Dunedin.  Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is a dump, so this recommendation has nothing to do with the ballpark experience.  In fact, the Jays will be moving to the east coast in the near future.

The real reason I included this on the list is that I really love Dunedin.  There is a wonderful downtown area with parks, a marina, restaurants, and a few really great brewpubs.  It’s a fantastic spot to hang after watching a Spring Training game.

Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista – Home of the Atlanta Braves

Distance from Sarasota: 116 miles
Games Hosting the Orioles: 0

Champion Stadium is located within Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex and, as you might imagine, is a top-of-the-line fan experience.  The Orioles don’t travel to Champion Stadium this Spring, but if a visit to Disney is on your to-do list you can still get in some Spring Training baseball while you are there.

Being within the Disney complex and the general Orlando region offers all of the obvious tourist destinations: Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World, etc.

This is only a quick taste of what you’ll find when you visit Florida for Spring Training. If you’re planning on coming down in the next few weeks, have fun and enjoy all of the great ballpark experiences and local flavor each location has to offer.