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Ft. Lauderdale deal near


The Orioles are on the verge of trying something a little different for spring training next year.

If details can be worked out, their major-league club would conduct spring camp in Fort Lauderdale, on Florida's East Coast.

Meanwhile, the club's minor-leaguers would be training 203 miles away in Sarasota, Fla., on the West Coast.

The unusual arrangement would be a temporary one, however. In a year or two, the city of Fort Lauderdale expects to complete a minor-league complex for the Orioles, something that would reunite the organization in one city.

Fort Lauderdale city official Jack Mathison put the odds at 80-20 in favor of the two sides reaching agreement within three weeks.

"We are deeply involved in ongoing negotiations with them. We've got actual concepts on paper," said Mathison, superintendent of special facilities for Fort Lauderdale. "At this point, we're beyond sitting here philosophically discussing things."

Orioles officials declined to discuss the plan. But team vice chairman Joe Foss acknowledged that the club was "working out a letter of intent" for use of a new spring training home.

Finding a permanent site for spring training has been an Orioles priority since some of the team's current players were in high school. The team has been on the move since 1991, when it left its longtime headquarters in Miami.

Ever since, the Orioles have conducted early spring workouts at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota. Twin Lakes also has been the site of their minor-league camp. But because the facility doesn't have a ballpark suitable for exhibition games, the Orioles have scrambled to make other arrangements.

They played all games on the road for a year. For the past four, the club's home exhibition field has been Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, which the Orioles have shared with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Under owner Peter Angelos, the Orioles have been looking for a site to combine their minor- and major-league spring operation.

Fort Lauderdale doesn't do that. As the southernmost city on Florida's East Coast with exhibition baseball, it also presents logistical problems. Aside from the Montreal Expos and Atlanta Braves, who train in nearby West Palm Beach, road trips would be long drives. The next shortest commute is more than two hours each way.

But the Fort Lauderdale facilities apparently come close enough to what the Orioles and Angelos -- a fan of the city -- want. The major-league complex, which until last year was home to the New York Yankees, offers an 8,500-seat stadium, batting cages and two practice fields.

The Yankees, who are moving their spring operations to Tampa, Fla., had their minor-league camp at a different site near the ballpark. In negotiations with the Orioles, city officials have discussed several sites on which to build a new minor-league complex.

The new complex would be ready in a year or two, Mathison said.

The Orioles wouldn't relish having to shuttle players and front-office officials between their major- and minor-league camps, even for a year. But Foss said that, for a short time, the club could deal with the inconvenience.

"In an ideal situation, you'd like to have everyone on the same property or in close proximity," he said. "But it isn't always possible."

In Fort Lauderdale, officials said they are confident the Orioles and the city would be a good match.

"From what we understand, they're fairly aggressive in marketing their spring-training program," Mathison said. "In this community, where the Yankees have been the only game in town, they'll be up against tough competition."

Fort Lauderdale is one of several Florida cities explored by the Orioles in recent months. They've also discussed moving to the Houston Astros' complex in Osceola County and the Chicago White Sox's stadium in Sarasota. Both teams have been rumored to be leaving Florida for training sites in Arizona.

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