March is baseball month in Sarasota, as a gang of about 65 young, athletic millionaires called the Cincinnati Reds come to town for spring training and warm-up games against all of the other big names in major league baseball. It's probably the best opportunity most of us ever have to see such talent in action so close up.
Pat Calhoon has been the sports facility manager for the city 16 years now and runs Ed Smith Stadium, the Bobby Jones Golf facility, the new skateboard park and the children's fountain on Island Park. This guy knows his sports, and especially baseball.
Q: What can we expect with spring training this year?
A: We see a lot of ball players and a lot of people who follow them. We get 60 to 70 major league players and another 160 to 170 minor leaguers coming in March 1, too. In other words, great baseball.
Q: We've got the Ed Smith and Bobby Jones facilities, boat ramps, a BMX track, skateboard park and some fine boat ramps, not to mention the beaches. What else?
A: Don't forget the pools like the new one at Lido and those at the high schools, the Newtown Community Center and Newtown Estates facilities. Then there's Little League and Babe Ruth ball. This town is really a great place for players and spectators, young and old.
Q: How much does this cost city taxpayers?
A: It's hard to lump it all together. The county owns and maintains some of the facilities. But typically, baseball costs Sarasota about $330,000 a year. And consider that $25 million-upwards to $40 million-the state says flows into the community as a result. Tourism like that drives our real estate industry, too.
Q; What do we need in addition sports-wise?
A: That conference center people keep talking about. We could bring in more major events, such as the AAU baseball tournament that contributes $6 million a year locally right now. There's gymnastics, cheerleading, basketball, volleyball and wrestling tournaments out there. All we really need is a place to hold them, because we've so much else to offer. All this activity ends up benefiting local business, the arts and really, everyone in the community.