Laura Williams is in her third year as the director of Florida Operations for the Baltimore Orioles, who begin their spring season in the recently renovated Ed Smith Stadium next month. Now that the legal battle between Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government and Sarasota County is over (the Florida Supreme Court ruled last October that the county was not in violation of the Sunshine Law when they negotiated the $23.7 million deal to renovate the stadium for the Orioles), Williams is looking forward to the new season.
Q: What does the director of Florida Operations do?
I’m now in my 13th season with the Orioles. Over the past year, I’ve been responsible for directing the Orioles’ transition to Sarasota, as well as overseeing the operations and construction of the soon-to-be refurbished facilities at both Ed Smith Stadium and the Buck O’Neil Baseball Complex at Twin Lakes Park. Prior to arriving in Sarasota, I spent a decade directing operations at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, including Orioles spring training.
Q: What’s the enduring appeal of spring training?
Spring training is affordable. We work very hard to provide an enjoyable experience, allowing individuals and families to see big league players up close. Fans make memories that they carry through life, many times bringing their grandchildren to the ballpark to relive the “good old days.” That thread holds all the generations together—not to mention the sunny weather after a long Northern winter.
Q: How was the Sarasota aesthetic incorporated into the new stadium?
Peter Angelos, the owner of the club, and Janet Marie Smith, our vice president of planning and development, had a vision: blending the beauty of Sarasota into what will be one of the signature ballparks of spring training. Janet Marie and the design team met with local historians to create a blueprint that retained the history of Ed Smith Stadium but combined the feel of Camden Yards.
The Mediterranean-style facade is reminiscent of the historical buildings throughout Sarasota County and will feature interior touches that celebrate that history and the community’s long-standing tradition of baseball.
Q: What’s the most exciting feature?
When you walk through the main entrance of the ballpark, you can almost immediately see directly through the seating bowl and out onto the grass field—it’s a striking change from the previous entrance. I honestly think that fans will not even be able to recognize many elements of the ballpark, particularly the outside façade, which should create a wonderful excitement.
Q: Where have you marketed spring training?
We have partnered with the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce in destination marketing that led to a 44 percent increase in people viewing CVB messages. We also market to Sarasota residents and area businesses, as well as to the Baltimore/Washington area Orioles fans.
We also provide Camden Yards season ticket holders in Baltimore with complimentary spring training game tickets in Sarasota, which results in hundreds of people traveling to Sarasota in February and March. It makes traveling to Florida more affordable and serves as an incentive.
Last spring, we had our highest spring training attendance in our franchise history; 102,219 fans came through the turnstiles. We anticipate those numbers to be even higher this spring.