SARASOTA, FLA. – Tourism is a huge industry here on the Suncoast and sports tourism is growing.
“It is one of our targeted industries that we are looking to attract more business development opportunities as well as visitors to our community,” said Jeff Maultsby, the Director of Business and Economic Development for Sarasota County.
Maultsby said the Sarasota County has made major investments into sports tourism citing a few examples like Ed Smith Stadium and the rowing facility near I-75.
“A tremendous amount of assets have been geared towards the attraction of more visitors in the sports realm.”
This week, the Baltimore Orioles are big contributors to sports tourism in Sarasota County. They are hosting the team’s Dream Week 2014 at the Buck O’Neil Baseball Complex at Twin Lakes Park.
A group of 72 Orioles fans left the cold Baltimore weather behind to spend a week on the Suncoast playing baseball and being coached by former Orioles players.
“I’m seeing some of the great stars. My idol here is Jim Gentile. It is just a fabulous experience,” said Ted Miksinski.
The fantasy campers are divided into teams, provided with custom home and away uniforms and play double-header games.
“We are having a good time,” said Rock Sovacoe.
Former Oriole great, Rick Dempsey is one of the coaches. He told ABC 7 he won the championship game last year and he is hoping to repeat his success this year. While coaching is a lot of fun he say he really enjoys the time with fans before and after the games.
“It is fun to get together with them and tell the old stories of the old days about games that they remember coming to and championships,” said Dempsey.
While the fans are living their fantasy, the Suncoast area is one of the real winners thanks to exposure and economic impact of Dream Week.
“We come down for a week, we are staying in the hotels, we have dinners out at night at St. Armand’s Circle and downtown Sarasota, renting cars and driving the economic train,” said Bill Stetka, Orioles Alumni Director.
Maultsby says sports tourism is blossoming across the country and Sarasota County has worked hard to attract sports fans.
“It is truly a case of if you build it they will come. We are building those assets, upgrading, updating and renovating if you will, a lot of the components in our community to help drive that traffic here.”
For many of the dream week participants, this is there first visit to Sarasota but others have been here before.
“There is so much to do here is Sarasota. It is a great little town, especially now it is an Oriole town,” said Miksinki.
He and others are already making plans to return to Sarasota in the spring.
“I’ll come down and watch the spring training and stay here for a couple of weeks so it will be a lot of fun,” said Sovacoe.
The campers are playing the games mostly for fun but there is some serious competition, the best two teams of the week face each other at the end of the week championship game played at Ed Smith Stadium.