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Oriole Bird Delivers Baseball Tournament Bid To Gainesville

The Oriole Bird makes a special delivery to the Florida High School Athletic Association offices to help Sarasota submit a bid for the state Baseball Finals.

When you can't find a carrier pigeon, the Baltimore Oriole Bird is the next best thing.

It's as if the Bird got the call in the bullpen to deliver in the bottom of the ninth, to make a pitch for Sarasota bidding for the Florida High School Athletic Association Baseball Finals— the same tournament hosted before construction caused the tournament to fly the coup.

Sure enough, the Bird traveled to Gainesville with Trevor Markham, manager of ticketing operations for Baltimore Orioles Spring Training, to turn in the bid in person where he "started whistling and everyone started coming out from their offices," said Laura Williams, Orioles director of Florida Operations.

"They never had a bid presentation presented by a bird, and they enthusiastically accepted our bid by our bird," Williams said.

The tournament was last played in Sarasota from 2005-2008. Previously it was played there from 1993 to 1997. If Sarasota would be awarded the tournament, the series would be played in May 2013, 2014 and 2015.

The idea was hatched back at the nest of — the new name of the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau with the help of Jason Puckett, director of Sports at the Sarasota County Sports Commission, Pat Calhoun of the Sports Commission and Clyde Metcalf, athletic director of Sarasota High School where they wanted a creative bid. But all credit goes to Markham for the idea, Puckett said.

Some bids arrived in Gainesville with special boxes, others in baseball gloves.

“We were willing to do something more than FedEx a proposal up to Gainesville, and we were willing to jump in the care and make even the bid fun,” Williams said.

“They’re going to see that we can offer them things that will be fun for their fans and their players,” she added.

And it actually counts toward something. Ten points in the bid process can be awarded in bid presentation and feel of the submission, Puckett said.

The bid is a part of reclaiming the business that went away during the construction of the Orioles’ new Baseball Operations Center, practice fields and Ed Smith Stadium renovation, Williams said.

“We already do Blues Fest, Circus Sarasota. This is one that they loved as well, and we’re going to try to bring that back to them,” she said.

The bid states that FHSAA expects state-of-the-art, first class efforts and expects “no less of the facility of the organization, Williams added. 

“We are now a first-class venue, and we have a first-class facility and we are a first-class organization,” Williams said.

Port St. Lucie is the current host and has fared well there, WWSB reports:

"Numbers from the 2011 championships in Port St. Lucie paint a very good picture for the city, showing that more than 9,000 people attended the event, creating more than 4,500 hotel room nights -- leading to a more than $600,000 in estimated economic impact."

The tournament lasts eight days now and could generate more than a million dollars in economic impact and several thousand room nights at hotels, Puckett said.

These types of major competitions can act as showcases for other organizations to participate in bringing their events to Sarasota, Puckett said.

"The other benefit for sports tourism is we're getting people to our destination that may have never came before," Puckett said. "Once they come to Sarasota, they always come back."

One tournament coming to Sarasota in June includes Prospect Wire, Puckett said, where about 120 teams made up of Florida high school baseball prospects will compete in a tournament designed to give them exposure to college coaches and pro scouts. (More tournaments can be found at sarasotasports.org)

Not only will they play at Ed Smith, but also at Twin Lakes Park's Buck O'Neil Baseball Complex, Babe Ruth Field and IMG Academies in Bradenton.

"The unique part about baseball is there's a lot of kids drafted each year right out of high school," Puckett said. "Scouts can come down and evaluate these kids."

So far, competition for the FHSAA Baseball Finals includes Ft. Myers and the Red Sox, Puckett said.

"We do have some stiff competition," he said. "I think we put our best wing forward."

The competition against additional cities and clubs isn’t known, but if Sarasota would be considered, a site visit with other finalists would be scheduled in June, and a winner would be announced in July, Williams said.

So what does the Oriole Bird do if Sarasota wins the bid?

"He'll whistle the loudest," Williams said.

This story has been updated.

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