O's, Norfolk OK Triple-A deal

The Baltimore Sun

After four years in Ottawa, the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate is moving closer to home.

And to a warmer spring climate.

Team officials confirmed yesterday that the Orioles have reached agreement on a player development contract with the Norfolk Tides that begins next season. The Tides have arranged a news conference for Monday at Harbor Park, which Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss and executives Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette are expected to attend.

The length of the agreement is the final detail that must be worked out. The Orioles would like a maximum four-year deal, rather than the standard two.

The Tides were affiliated with the New York Mets for 38 years before their association ended this summer. The Mets reached an agreement with the New Orleans Zephyrs, which formally had been affiliated with the Washington Nationals.

The Orioles and Nationals were believed to have the most interest in Norfolk, but Washington reached an agreement this week with the Columbus Clippers, the New York Yankees' former Triple-A club. The Yankees have joined up with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Scranton had been the early favorite to land the Orioles, who eventually were left competing with the Mets for the final two destinations. Some team officials were intrigued by New Orleans, but Norfolk's closer proximity to Baltimore and residence in the International League were significant advantages. New Orleans plays in the Pacific Coast League.

Tides president Ken Young, who couldn't be reached for comment yesterday, formed an investment group earlier this summer and purchased three of the Orioles' in-state affiliates: Bowie, Frederick and Delmarva. A past relationship also exists between Norfolk and Duquette, a former Mets general manager.

Having the Tides affiliated with the Orioles seemed like a natural fit.

"This is a big improvement," Triple-A manager Dave Trembley said. "The location, the weather, the facility, the proximity to Baltimore, all the Orioles fans in Virginia. It certainly will be easier for the front office personnel to come in and evaluate talent."

The relationship between the Tides and Mets apparently became strained this year, with reports that New York general manager Omar Minaya and assistant Tony Bernazard failed to make any trips to Virginia. Meanwhile, the Orioles are hoping to form a partnership of sorts that would include an exhibition game at the end of spring training at Harbor Park, either against the Tides or another major league team.

The Orioles had chosen Ottawa over Edmonton as their Triple-A affiliate four years ago after the Rochester Red Wings ended their 42-year relationship. The Philadelphia Phillies will partner with the Lynx in 2007 before moving their Triple-A operation to Allentown, Pa., which has offered to build a new stadium.

While Orioles officials liked Ottawa, they detested the cold weather, small crowds and challenges associated with getting players in and out of the city. It became increasingly difficult to lure quality six-year minor league free agents to Canada.

One minor league official referred to Ottawa as "a great city, but baseball is dead there."

"It's not good. It's not appropriate for playing baseball," said third baseman Fernando Tatis, who spent four months with the Lynx before having his contract purchased on July 21. "The weather, the stadium, there's no [indoor] batting cage. It's not the right place to play baseball. They don't care. They don't deserve anybody to go there and play baseball. It was the hardest place I've ever played."

NOTES -- An Orioles contingent that included Flanagan, Foss, vice president Lou Kousouris, assistant director of minor league operations Tripp Norton, executive assistant Ann Lange and traveling secretary Phil Itzoe attended a viewing yesterday in Saluda, Va., for former Orioles vice president Syd Thrift, who died Monday night. Thrift's funeral will be held today in Urbanna, Va. ... Manager Sam Perlozzo said the Orioles haven't engaged in discussions yet to determine the coaching staff for 2007.

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