Cleared for Takeoff

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"I'm certainly not complaining," Horowitz says about the expense. "Fair is neither here nor there. We were on a mission."

And that mission may be just getting under way. Some are already wondering why a supposedly profitable baseball team is asking for an updated stadium at no cost, while a fledgling soccer team is willing to shell out its own money. Should the Orioles choose to leave, the already appreciative Fusion may be able to expand their operation.

"We all knew going into this that [the Orioles] wanted to call Fort Lauderdale home and that there was a price the city would have to pay for that," Gizzi says. "But there are plans for [Fort Lauderdale Stadium] if the Orioles back out. That's actually what we [the city's parks and recreation department] would support -- working with the Fusion. I'm sure they would want that property."

Jerry Baumann, age 39, remembers his very first baseball game. He doesn't quite remember how old he was ("seven or eight, I guess") or if he had a hot dog or popcorn. But he remembers the game. Orioles vs. the Yankees. The Bronx. The Yankees won that day, and second baseman Bobby Richardson became young Baumann's first hero.

Baumann isn't in grade school anymore, but he's still a big baseball fan and a member of the Orioles Host Committee, a group of local residents seeking public and financial support to keep the Orioles in Fort Lauderdale. He says the group's enthusiasm has waned since last year, when a sit-down breakfast at a local hotel was put together so that state and local politicians could rub elbows with the players. This year's buffet-style breakfast was held last Sunday in the ballpark.

"I have been to meetings on this, and I have not seen dedication from the highest levels of government that they want the Orioles to stay," Baumann says. "There needs to be more of a sense of urgency, and I don't know why there's not. It's really been a half-hearted attempt to keep them. I really think the Orioles are gone."

If they do leave, it would mean the end of an era in Fort Lauderdale. Spring training in Florida dates back to 1888 with the Washington Statesmen. By the 1920s ten of the sixteen major-league teams were training in Florida, mostly on the west coast, but they moved around a lot until about the mid-'40s, when many teams looked for a place to call home.

In 1962 the Yankees settled in Fort Lauderdale, and for more than twenty years, everyone was happy. But by the late '80s, the Yanks were talking about having their minor-league players nearby so that coaches could observe their play. Just a few years later, they were asking for major improvements to the stadium. After their lease expired in 1994, the Yankees stayed on for an extra year for just one reason: Their brand-new training facility in Tampa wasn't finished.

Enter the Orioles, who'd been sharing training facilities with the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Petersburg and with their own minor-leaguers in Sarasota and wanted their own stadium. But when it comes to taking root anywhere, except in Baltimore, the Orioles have a spotty record. They originally set up spring training in Bobby Maduro Stadium in Miami in 1959. By the mid-'80s, facing the end of a lease, the Orioles indicated that they would leave Miami unless renovations were made to the stadium. Horrow, meanwhile, was negotiating with the city of Homestead, 30 miles south of Miami, for a brand-new stadium. The Orioles' colors -- black and orange -- and their logo were included in early drawings of the stadium, according to Tad DeMilly, mayor of Homestead at the time. But because Homestead was so far south -- and therefore far away from most opposing teams' training facilities -- they backed out of the deal and convinced Miami to pump $2 million worth of renovations into Bobby Maduro Stadium in 1989. A year later, after spring training was over, the Orioles left Miami-Dade for good.

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Lucy Chabot