The improvement comes ahead of the 2018 spring training season.
As major league baseball players gear up for another season, Sarasota County officials are making sure their spring training home is ready to go.
Ed Smith Stadium, the spring training headquarters for the Baltimore Orioles, is nearing the end of nearly $2 million in repairs and upgrades.
In May of last year, team and county officials began plans for around $1.8 million of scheduled enhancements. Damage from Hurricane Irma then added another estimated $200,000 to the project, the bulk of which will be finished by the time Orioles’ players and fans arrive for the opening game on Feb. 23.
The majority of money came from the county’s capital expenditure contributions fund, with about $70,000 coming from the Orioles to help pay for a protective net along 10th Street to prevent batted balls from practice fields from striking vehicles. The county has applied for FEMA reimbursement for repairs directly related to the storm.
“Irma was not very kind to us at the facility,” said Pat Calhoon, a manager with the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources department.
Irma damaged windscreens, awnings and safety nets across the facility and destroyed one of the field’s batter’s eye screens, which is a dark-colored backdrop placed behind the centerfield wall that hitters use to better see the baseball against an uncluttered background.
This batter’s eye was installed on a field built to the same specifications as Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Calhoon said materials for the replacement are already in place, and the county expects to find a contractor to install it before pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 14.
Costs for the Irma-related repairs are still estimates, as the bids have not been finalized. Because of the high statewide demand for repair work after Irma, Calhoon said contractors have been more selective, and bids have been as much as 100% above normal costs.
“It’s been a challenge to move through,” Calhoon said. “Everybody else has similar issues around the state.”
The team has had more success with its scheduled projects, most of which have already finished or are nearing completion.
After the 2017 season, team and county officials decided to spend more than $1 million for a full-scale reinstallation of the stadium’s flooring. Since 2012. the facility had needed annual fixes to replace broken and bubbling portions of the concourses.
Calhoon said 83% of the floor space has been replaced as of Jan. 24, putting the project ahead of schedule. He said the updates were designed to resemble the existing floor and fans might not even notice a difference.
Several less costly upgrades are expected to be more noticeable for fans. The women's restrooms are undergoing enhancements, and the county has installed an access ramp near the stadium’s main gate.
Orioles players will also enjoy renovations this spring. Field 4, the one which resembles Camden Yards, has undergone more than $300,000 in scheduled renovations, including additional sand for the infield and new drainage in the outfield.