Ed Smith Stadium – Baltimore Orioles Spring Training
Bringing Baltimore Baseball to the Beach
Orioles fans are appropriately proud of their home stadium in Baltimore, Camden Yards, with its historical flavor and numerous innovations. However, they can be equally proud of their spring home in warm Sarasota, Florida.
Ed Smith Stadium, originally home to the White Sox, was built in 1989. In 2010, after a vacancy following Chicago’s switch to Arizona’s Cactus League, Baltimore moved their Spring Training from Fort Lauderdale and heavily renovated the ballpark, incorporating many features from Camden Yards. Today, Ed Smith Stadium is one of the best places to catch a spring game in Florida and is the compliment to any trip to beautiful Sarasota.
Food & Beverage 4
The food options at Ed Smith Stadium are sure to satisfy any taste. Options range from ballpark staples, to Baltimore-influenced dishes, to Floridian fare, to healthier choices.
The perfect item here is the crab cake sandwich ($12). Served on a toasted burger bun, it is fresh-tasting and combines the flavors of Maryland and Florida. Another popular choice is the shrimp basket with fries. Try the Cuban sandwich for a taste of Florida’s west coast.
There are lots of sandwich options ($8-$10), mostly at the Café 54 restaurant, located near the main entrance. This is a great place to sit down and socialize before the game in a glassed-in space with banners and a scoreclock.
Staples like hot dogs and burgers are found throughout, as are the usual snack choices of peanuts, cracker jacks, popcorn, and fries. There are well-advertised healthier options too, including yogurt, turkey burgers, and vegetarian products.
In addition to these staples, Chick-Fil-A, Dippin’ Dots, and Baltimore Snowballs (somewhat akin to a sno-kone) have stands here. Soda runs from $5 for a 16oz cup to a 32oz souvenir cup for just a dollar more. Other drinks like iced tea and coconut water are available.
For beer, all 16oz pours and bottles in the seats are $8. The highlight is the craft beer stand behind home plate which has dozens of bottles from all over the world. European, Canadian, and Latin American beers compliment American craft beer. Prices vary, but it’s a step up from the usual Bud Light and Coors Light that are most commonly seen throughout this and other stadiums.
In all, prices can be steep but the selection is superb. With sunny terraces and indoor areas to eat, you can do very well to enjoy lunch at the ballpark.
Ed Smith Stadium is everything a Grapefruit League stadium should be-a combination of local feel and the feel of the home ballpark. In the Orioles’ case, Camden Yards is certainly a spectacular home, and some neat features have been brought down to Sarasota.
Notably, the green seats of Ed Smith Stadium are refurbished seats actually used at Camden Yards. As well, the gates of the stadium, Oriole weathervanes, and plenty of orange-black banners. The retired numbers are displayed behind home plate, and championship banners hang in the concourse. These are complemented by graphics from previous club achievements and previous years’ spring training periods.
As for the stadium layout itself, the breezy grandstand is capped by tropical-looking architecture and set amidst palm trees and gardens insulating it from the street. The seating is two-tiered and separated by a walkway a few rows up from the field. Atop the seats is an open concourse with popular standing-room tables and some concessions. Washrooms are a little sparse on this level, but plentiful downstairs. In left field, a spacious terrace is a neat place to watch the game.
It should be noted that during most spring training games, the hot sun quickly moves overhead of the third-base line and those seats become hot. Midway through games, fans may find themselves moving into the limited topmost seats that are shaded or into the concourse. Conversely, as the sun moves over the park, the first-base line becomes shaded. Unless you are looking for a tan, that is the best place to sit.
During the game, many Orioles traditions are brought to Florida; from fans yelling ‘O’ during the national anthem’s ‘O say can you see,’ to animated hot dog races, to the chirping and engaged Oriole mascot square-dancing atop the dugout during the seventh-inning stretch. The scoreboard is clear though occasionally seemed to flash off for a second before returning to normal. It was unusual but not a problem at all.
Amusingly, when presenting the weather before the game, the announcer mentions the cooler temperatures in Baltimore and the visiting team’s home before mentioning the usually-gorgeous weather in Sarasota to much applause.
At the end of the game, the gates are opened and fans can exit quickly, though an area of the concourse near third-base is cut off as the visiting team exit to their waiting buses.
Ed Smith Stadium sits within the Orioles’ expansive training complex, which is itself located in a nondescript residential and light industrial area of the city. Sarasota’s fantastic beaches, upscale shopping, and fine dining beckon along the Gulf of Mexico, but they will entail a short drive from the stadium.
Within walking distance, dining options are largely limited to fast-food restaurants or chains. The only particularly interesting option is JDub’s craft brewery about a half-mile west of the stadium in the industrial area along 12th Street. There is a taproom onsite and occasionally food trucks parked in front.
Otherwise, Sarasota’s famed Gulf beaches and expensive islands are nearby. For an upscale dinner, expensive shopping, or people-watching, stroll along the popular St. Armand’s Circle just across the bay from the city center. Lido Key just beyond has hotels and white sand. An hour up Interstate 75 is Tampa-St. Pete’s, with plenty of sporting options, and even closer is Bradenton, the spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The makeup of fans at Ed Smith Stadium is much like other spring training ballparks; part locals (many of whom migrated to Florida with their own baseball allegiances), travelling fans from both teams, and beachgoers enjoying the afternoon sun with the addition of some baseball. The atmosphere is very friendly and relaxed, with little of the intensity or excitement that might be found at meaningful regular season games.
The attendance is consistently in the upper echelon of the Grapefruit League, frequently approaching 7 000, which is a strong showing. Many of the fans are knowledgeable about the Orioles and can make good conversation, while there are also plenty who are just around to enjoy the weather.
Within the stadium, the flow of fans is generally smooth along the wide, breezy concourses. There are a few chokepoints, though. These tend to stem from the lack of stairways at either end of the upper concourse, so that the central stairways behind home plate can become congested. This can be particularly exasperated by the large crowds of seniors, some of whom may have mobility issues.
On the lower concourse, lineups for concessions can be long at peak times, though the upper concourse is rarely crowded at all. Restroom facilities downstairs are plentiful but upstairs, there are often lineups.
Entering and exiting the stadium is a smooth process, with multiple different access points along the concourse.
Getting to the game is straightforward enough by car, with various parking lots surrounding the stadium. Police direct pedestrian traffic and control the traffic lights near the ballpark before and after the game so that the walk from surrounding lots is easier. Parking ranges from $10 – $20 near the stadium, though it can get cheaper as you go further away.
As with most cities of Sarasota’s size, public transit consists of fairly infrequent bus service, so driving is the best option, though there are is a bus stop on Tuttle Ave at 12th Street, not far from the ballpark. This stop is served by the 6 bus which will take you downtown roughly half-hourly.
Return on Investment 4
A spring training game at Ed Smith Stadium can be a little pricey, but it is well worth it for a quality afternoon of baseball in what is often near-perfect weather. Tickets generally range from $11-$36. The best tip is to get an affordable $11 ticket and move to the all-access standing room tables along the upper concourse, or wander to the left field terrace. Parking can run you $10-$20, and lunch and a beer will probably cost you close to $20. In all, spring training can come cheaper, but the enjoyment of seeing it here is among the best in Florida.
There are dozens of bonus points to be awarded here. From the refurbished Camden Yards seats, to the friendly staff, to the Orioles traditions imported to the park, to the beautiful Floridian architecture.
There is one specific extra that deserves to be mentioned, though. Darryl Johnson, one of the roving beer vendors, is a huge part of the character of the ballpark (http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20100403/what-makes-this-beerman-so-good-call-it-love).
His unusually loud and boisterous yells of “cold beer!” can be heard reverberating throughout the stadium and his tall hat (something of a cross between an elephant and a winged cucumber) have been staples of the Orioles spring experience for well over a decade. He even moved with the team when they switched training venues from Fort Lauderdale to Sarasota!
Attending a spring training game is one of the great baseball experiences for its relaxed pace, great weather, and lovely destinations. Seeing an Orioles game in Sarasota should be near the top of any spring training list. Ed Smith Stadium is a beautiful facility in a terrific location along Florida’s Gulf Coast and is one of the best places to soak up some springtime sun and enjoyable baseball.
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Ed Smith Stadium has been around in Sarasota since 1989, and served as the home of the White Sox and the Reds during that time. But in 2010 when the Orioles moved in, a 31.2 million renovation gave it the flair that O’s fans have come to expect. Suddenly Ed Smith Stadium became one of the best spring training ballparks in all of Florida.