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Orioles set spring training attendance franchise record

Not only did the Orioles spank the New York Mets 11-0 Saturday in their final spring training game, the team left preseason with a bang by surpassing 100,000 in attendance for the first time in Orioles history.

In the club’s first spring in Sarasota, Fla., the team drew 102,219 fans for an average of 6,815 fans per game. That’s a 39 percent increase from 2009 when the team played in Fort Lauderdale. The figure also represents the largest increase in Major League Baseball this spring, according to an Orioles news release.

“Our already high expectations have been easily surpassed by the outpouring of support from the local community, its citizens and business and political leaders,” said Orioles spokesman Greg Bader in the release, who noted attendance was a mix of the local community and “thousands of fans from the Mid-Atlantic region.”

Ed Smith Stadium’s capacity is about 7,500.

A lot of this is likely due to the excitement over the Orioles being in a new spring training location — especially since it seems like this attempt to move from Fort Lauderdale is almost as old as some of the Orioles’ young starters.

Other clubs this year have been enjoying a spring training attendance bonanza, as noted by the Fort Myers, Fla. The Boston Red Sox, who play in a park about the same size as the Orioles have sold out more than 100-straight spring training games (not a shocker). The New York Yankees, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs, who all play in larger ballparks, all have average home attendance of more than 10,000.

The Tampa Bay Rays attendance, however, has dipped from 2009 (their first season after their World Series appearance) to 6,004 in 2010 from from an average crowd of 6,513.

The Red Sox move to a new stadium on Daniels Parkway in 2012 with a capacity of 11,000. Somehow I doubt they’ll have trouble filling up that place too. After Ed Smith Stadium is renovated this year, its capacity will be increased to 9,000. I wonder how the O’s will fare with keeping capacity percentage up?

Maybe 2011 will be just as good because the renovations will continue to draw people. But if Tampa Bay is any indicator, excitement only lasts a year before it goes back to product on the field. And that one’s still a work in progress.