Orioles seem to draw controversy wherever they go

While workers prepare Dodgertown for the onslaught of college and high school players coming to town for a series of week-long tournament visits, the facility’s almost tenant — the Baltimore Orioles — are still waiting for the funding to renovate Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota which was part of the deal that lured them away from Indian River County.Most observers of the city of Sarasota and Sarasota County political scene expect the funding to go through, but there remains a slim chance the deal could fall apart and the Orioles could again put themselves on the spring training open market.

At the heart of taxpayer group’s complaint against funding the upgrades to Ed Smith Stadium is its claim the Sarasota County Commissioners violated the state’s sunshine laws by negotiating with the Orioles in secret — something the team insisted upon when it was dealing with the Indian River County and Vero Beach officials.The group sued county and city officials late last year, preventing Sarasota officials from issuing $26 million in construction bonds. That move delayed the start of improvements to the Orioles’ new spring training home  which was supposed to be completed this year, but could extend into 2011 if the suit is appealed.To shore up their defense against the taxpayer’s group Sarasota County officials met Friday and again discussed the Orioles agreementl in open session and again affirmed the deal by a 4-1 vote the same as it had back in July, according to a report on the HeraldTribune.com.For their part, the Orioles say they are happy to be in Sarasota and drew a crowd of 320 people for their first spring training practice Thursday morning. However,  the HeraldTribune.com did report their hardball lead attorney Alan Rifkin and his team, with whom local officials had to deal with throughout their Dodgertown negotiations — hinted they have the right to sue should the deal somehow fall through.”If the commission had tried to back away now, the team could sue, a fact that lawyers for the Orioles and the county alluded to when they called the spring training deal a “binding and enforceable agreement,'” the HeraldTribune reported.For his part Dodgertown’s Craig Callan has moved on and is getting ready for baseball’s return in the form of college and high school players. He has said he is open to talking with the Orioles and has let them know that, but thus far he has not heard from them or any other major league team.Callan’s plans for Dodgertown call for diversifying the facility’s offerings, including attracting youth baseball tournaments, umpiring schools, soccer, possibly lacrosse tournaments, and even international sports teams.The big event for the year is the RussMatt Invitational which runs from Feb. 27 to March 29. Callan has estimated the event, in which northern teams come to practice and play in the Florida sun for a week, should draw between 3,000 to 3,500 room nights for players, coaches, parents and family members.

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