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O's-Fort Lauderdale talks get serious


The Orioles expect to have settled on a spring training site for next year within 45 days, and indications are they seriously are mulling a move to the former New York Yankees' camp in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"We're certainly exploring Fort Lauderdale among two or three other cities. It is a very viable alternative for us," said Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss.

Pete Witschen, assistant city manager of Fort Lauderdale, said discussions with the Orioles have been ongoing for months. The two sides met as recently as last week and more talks are planned, he said.

"The talks have become very serious in the last month," Witschen said.

Though they like Fort Lauderdale, Orioles officials have reservations.

"The drawback is space," Foss said.

The centerpiece of the Fort Lauderdale complex is 8,340-seat Fort Lauderdale Stadium, which was built in 1962. The site also includes two practice fields, batting cages and batting tunnels, where players can train during inclement weather.

However, the complex would be for the major-league team only. The site isn't large enough to permit an expansion for a minor-league camp.

"Major- and minor-league camps in the same place would be an ideal situation," Foss said.

Witschen said the city is proposing several options for locating a minor-league camp nearby. One option is to build a facility within a 20- to 25-minute drive from Fort Lauderdale Stadium. The Orioles are not interested in occupying the Yankees' former minor-league camp, which is farther away.

"We're continuing to have discussions with them to try to find practice fields," Witschen said. "There are a couple of real strong possibilities. They have a deadline, so we understand it's a necessity to do something before the end of June."

The Orioles have been on a spring training carousel for much of the last decade. For the past three years, the club has begun spring workouts at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota, Fla. The complex doesn't include a stadium for exhibition games, so the Orioles have shifted 40 miles north to St. Petersburg for the Grapefruit League schedule each March.

Sarasota, on the West Coast of Florida, was considered a way station by club officials when the Orioles arrived there in 1991. From 1959 to 1990, the club's training site was Miami, Fla.

A move to Fort Lauderdale would return the Orioles to the east side of the state. The city is a possibility because Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is relocating his team to a new ballpark under construction in his hometown of Tampa.

According to Witschen, talks with the Orioles are the most serious going on about use of Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Ideally, he said, the city hopes to land a long-term tenant.

"Ultimately, we want to look at something on the order of a 10-year commitment," the city official said. "Obviously, neither the city nor the club wants to go through a negotiation, with that uneasiness, every few years."

The Orioles have hired a Florida-based consultant, Rick Horrow, to assist in their search. Foss wouldn't identify the club's other options, but did acknowledge that they include returning to Sarasota and St. Petersburg for another year.

The Orioles apparently won't be hooking up with Walt Disney on a spring training complex at Disney World. The parties did not reach agreement on the deal, and ended their talks late last year, Foss said.

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