My Sarasota report: Falling in love with the Orioles and spring training all over again…

November 16, 2010 | Nestor Aparicio

I made a fatal yet beautiful mistake this weekend. My mother in law has a place near Sarasota area and my wife and I used the mini-bye weekend to “visit Sarasota” just like all of the ads I saw on MASN all summer said.

And you know what? I fell in love with the concept of the Orioles and spring training and Sarasota once again.

A proud franchise, steeped in tradition and local lore with the likes of Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken never saw a training facility like the one that is quickly getting erected off 12th Street in Sarasota.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-bldNihn68[/youtube]

I walked around. I checked it out and I dreamed the dream of the orange Kool Aid. No doubt it’s a personal source of pride for the lovely Janet Marie Smith as she once watched Oriole Park at Camden Yards rise above the ashes of a dusty industrial wasteland six blocks west of the shining Inner Harbor 20 years ago. She is now overseeing this long-overdue re-working of the Orioles ways of spring and much like her predecessors, she’s abruptly stopped returning phone calls and emails from WNST.net.

Work for a thug, act like a thug I suppose?

But, oh how times they are a’ changing in Florida for the Orioles.

I drove through St. Petersburg twice over the weekend and thought of the great times I had there in 1993 and 1994 and the games at Al Lang Stadium. I was too young a reporter then to realize just how screwed up the Orioles spring training situation was there as the players literally trained at a little league facility called Huggins-Stengel Field, which is where the Yankees trained in the 1930’s and boarded a bus in full uniforms to go to a “home” stadium where they didn’t even have a locker room.

And that was when Eli Jacobs owned the team…

Yes, the Orioles spring training situation was screwed up long before Peter Angelos got his greedy mitts on the franchise but he’s certainly culpable for the last 15 years of disgraceful working conditions for players, coaches and scouts alike.

Everyone that I’ve ever encountered with the Orioles over the last decade and a half would easily tell you that of ALL of the really, really screwed up things about the franchise besides the owner himself, the biggest tragedy of all is how bad their spring training conditions have been and how thoroughly unprofessional and painfully slow the progress has been for the franchise.

And it was especially hard on the younger players, who had it the worst and got the least amount of respect in the whole situation.

Fort Lauderdale Stadium was a slum. The team’s minor-league facility in Sarasota – almost a three-hour drive across Alligator Alley – was overrun with weeds, glass and was written up at the MLB offices by several visiting teams as an unsafe facility.

But that’s all rearview mirror based on what I saw in Sarasota this weekend.

The biggest problem I have when I encounter morons on the internet who’ve been watching this vomit called “Orioles baseball” over the last 15 years and somehow find a way to vilify me because I have the audacity to tell the truth about the situation is when they’ve never seen these working conditions or been to Florida.

I did 12 spring trainings in a row with the Orioles from 1992 to 2004. I saw it all. I heard it all. And I watched as Angelos stuffed more money into his pockets as the likes of Cal Ripken, Mike Mussina, Brian Roberts, etc. worked in a slum every day when they reported to work how little regard they were held in by the ownership.

I’ll never forget the look on Javy Lopez’s face when he reported to Fort Lauderdale for the first time after a decade in Atlanta. It was something straight outta “Major League,” like something Tome Berenger would’ve done. He was appalled the minute he arrived.

As they say, the truth hurts.

The truth is the team hasn’t played a meaningful game since 1997. The facts dictate that the team has hovered in or around last place since the days of Vinny Testaverde and Ted Marchibroda and the Ravens were still playing on 33rd Street.

Yeah, THAT long.

And somehow Angelos and Janet Marie Smith are offended that I won’t lie to you for them and write that “they’re on the right path” or “Buck Showalter will save them.”

That’s Bulls#$% and anyone who believes it probably is the same person who has believed the last 14 spring trainings of lies and deceit and shameless profiteering and manipulation and intimidation of the local media.

They lie. They’ve lied to me. They’ve lied to you. They’ll lie again.

And they certainly lie about how much money they’re making – upward of $50 million again this year off of your cable TV bill.

And they lose. A LOT…

And we’re all hoping Buck Showalter is the savior for baseball in Baltimore but I’m not holding my breath.

But after seeing this lovely stadium going up amidst the rubble in a largely Hispanic neighborhood in Sarasota, I’ve got some semblance of hope for the future because this represents something that will outlive Angelos. And I’m personally hoping that I’ll live long enough that the Sarasota shrine that is going up will someday be a great source of fun and joy for me one day.

I’ve been doing for 27 years now, telling the truth to Baltimore sports fans about the local teams and why they win and lose.

The Orioles lose because of Peter G. Angelos. That was true 10 years ago and it’s even more true now. We’ll watch Andy MacPhail at the GM meetings in Orlando this week and the Orioles – despite the “promise” of the new manager and emergence of youthful pitching (too) late last summer – will come back without Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford or any other useful (re: expensive) free agents in this crop.

And the “media” – most who are mainly employed by Angelos – will come back and make excuses about why they wound up in pinstripes or elsewhere.

The truth?

The owner is a jerk, has destroyed the franchise with apparent impunity and is COMPLETELY RUNINNG THE FRANCHISE AGAIN and no one seems to think this is a bad idea.

Call Scott Garceau or Mark Viviano or any of the others in the bastion of local journalism who take a paycheck from Angelos and ask them about the working conditions of the Orioles in Fort Lauderdale or Sarasota over the years. Heck, you can ask Garceau how awful Miami was in the 1980’s as the gunshots flew around the ballpark.

Ask these “journalists” what they REALLY think about Angelos and his wife running the team day to day.

And ask where John Angelos has been since he was “escorted” out of The Warehouse back in May and why it was never reported in the media that the President of freaking franchise was THROWN OUT of the building and no one reported on it?

Can you imagine Steve Bisciotti having Dick Cass escorted from The Castle in Owings Mills and not have media asking all sorts of questions?

But that’s the world we live in the Baltimore media. Ask the baseball owner real questions about 14 years of ineptness and get unceremoniously thrown out of being in the media and have your press credential revoked. All while the local “journalists” – the guys who are supposed to see the truth, report on it and keep “the man” honest – instead apologize for a franchise and a man who has profiteered while the fans have suffered and paid premium prices through their cable TV bills to watch a perennially loser and excuse maker.

But these are also local media agencies that also employ former crooked cops and turn them into morning show stars for their honorable opinion on how the world should work.

It’s disgusting. Just like the creepy local politicians who spent the last eight weeks hurling mud at each other on the 6 o’clock news every night as though there was some honor involved.

I think the whole city and state are going to hell, quite frankly.

But back to spring training.

I went to Sarasota this weekend and I saw something rising out of the ashes that will certainly outlive Peter Angelos and provide some hope and joy to any number of Orioles fans who decide to go to Florida for spring training.

I saw a beautiful ballpark being built in a largely Hispanic part of Sarasota, just two miles from the most gorgeous area of America you’d ever hope to see. The bridge from Sarasota to St. Armand’s at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning was memorable in its sheer magnificence.

So, WNST.net is going to Sarasota. We’re hoping to find a few sponsors and a bunch of fans – not easy to do when it comes to baseball in Baltimore these days – who will enjoy a week of orange love in Florida and we’ll go to the games, have a few beers, get a tan and enjoy some Orioles baseball. We might even go up to Bradenton or Clearwater or down to Fort Myers for a few more games.

And we’ll do radio, we shoot videos and we’ll laugh and enjoy the Orioles where they’re best enjoyed – in the fantasyland of hope and dreams in spring training, where they’re record will remain 0-0 and the hopes of the orange Kool Aid drinkers is at an all time high and the baseball nerds who still trek to Camden Yards can “dream” of that mythical .500 season that somehow will hurdle the Orioles into mediocrity, as if that’s some sort of noble goal.

I saw the pools. I saw the palm trees. I saw the pretty girls. I know it’ll be 80 there the first week of March and it’ll be 30-something here.

They’ll most certainly illegally deny us a press credential, well, for just BEING US. But they can’t stop us from having fun. We’re going to try to go Florida and we’re going to try to have some fun.

Now all I need are a handful of sponsors and as many fans as we can take with us.

Who’s with me? We’ll be putting together a trip down and hopefully a few days of radio and a few days of baseball. I found a few awesome hotels and a sports bar that wants to have us do a show every day.

The rest I’m trying to figure out. I’m putting together an interest list.

Drop me a note at nasty@wnst.net if you’re interested in doing Florida for a couple of days with the WNST crew.

Fun will be included.

And that’s been a very rare thing in regard to the Orioles or spring training over the last two decades…

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