- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

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For every move forward, there is a price. Anyone in the sports business in Washington — media included — had to welcome the return of baseball to the city as a move forward, a welcome development. But the price paid for that was Viera, Fla.

You see, if you covered baseball in Washington before 2005, you covered the Orioles. That meant when spring training came, you headed for Fort Lauderdale and its large menu of fun and entertainment, from Pompano Beach to South Beach, all within driving distance. Fort Lauderdale was Sodom, Miami was Gomorrah andif you could get over the fear that both cities could be turned into ashes at any minute, life was good.

Then the Montreal Expos moved to Washington in 2005, and you found yourself in Mayberry. And not old fashioned, Floyd the Barber Mayberry but a manufactured one, full of Super Wal-Marts, Super Targets and Bennigan’s where cows used to graze.

According to the Web site for this development, Viera “will eventually encompass approximately 22,000 acres centered around a vibrant town center. The surrounding communities will be filled with wildlife habitats, golf courses, conservation areas, lakes, miles of nature trails, and recreational parks.”

Golf courses. Nature trails. Wildlife habitats. What happens in Viera is … well, nothing happens in Viera. And not much more is going on in the nearest real town, Melbourne, where the streets roll up early at night. There’s nothing quite like last call at 10 p.m.

This, of course, is not good for sportswriters. However, if you are running a baseball team, it is great.

The Orioles have to hope every spring that some young kid in camp won’t wind up on a police blotter (see Matt Riley and Sidney Ponson). You can be sure manager Sam Perlozzo breaks into a sweat if his phone rings past 10 p.m. there. It is not unusual to see some bloodshot eyes and dragging bodies walking into the clubhouse at Fort Lauderdale Stadium early in the morning.

But if you are Nationals manager Manny Acta or general manager Jim Bowden, you can sleep a lot easier at night knowing the opportunities for players to get into trouble in Viera are limited. It can happen, but you really have to make a concerted effort. (The general manager couldn’t get stopped twice in 10 minutes by two different sets of cops in Viera if he drove around with a neon sign on top of his car that said, “I’m Jim Bowden. Go Ahead. I Dare You!”)

In Viera, you have to look hard for trouble. In Fort Lauderdale, trouble comes with the rental car agreement.

Baseball-wise, the Nationals’ spring training home — Space Coast Stadium and the Carl Barger Complex next door — has it all over the Orioles and not just because of the limited temptations. The Nationals’ facility is large enough, as is nearly every other spring training complex in Florida and Arizona — for major and minor leaguers to work out at the same place. This way the manager and other baseball people have a chance to get a good look at young players.

The Orioles have trained for more than 10 years in an antiquated complex, the old spring training home of the Yankees. The organization’s minor leaguers have been training for years on the other side of the state — in Sarasota — because the Fort Lauderdale location isn’t big enough to handle all the players. That presents a handicap for player development, not that the Orioles needed any help making bad decisions. That may change, though, because Fort Lauderdale and Broward County agreed in December to spend $40 million to upgrade the 45-year-old facility and add baseball fields.

And while Viera may not be Sin City, it does have one pretty cool thing going for it: It’s just a few miles from where the Atlantis Space Shuttle will be launched March 15. It arrived at Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday. It is scheduled for liftoff at 6:43 a.m.

And the good thing is, in Viera, you will get to bed in plenty of time to be well-rested to watch it.

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