Say goodbye to Dodgertown

>> Monday, March 17, 2008

Five minutes ago I e-mailed the latest revision of The Brooklyn Nine to editor Liz, and by total coincidence the Dodgers are today, even as I write this, playing their last ever spring training game at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. Next season, they move to new digs in Glendale, Arizona.

In 1948 the Brooklyn Dodgers were the first team to establish spring training facilities in Florida, an innovation by General Manager Branch Rickey, the man credited with developing pro baseball's first farm team system and who later made history by signing Jackie Robinson. While other teams have changed cities and stadiums, the Dodgers have been a fixture in Vero Beach, Florida for sixty years. Today that comes to an end.

It makes sense for the Dodgers to have spring training in Arizona with the rest of the West Coast teams in the Cactus League. It's closer to their fans, and closer to the players' families. In a last ditch effort to keep the Dodgers in Vero Beach, the city bought the complex from the Dodgers in 2001 and leased it back to them for just $1 per year. But Arizona has done everything it can to lure the Dodgers away from Florida, offering to pay them to move and build brand new facilities for them. In the end it was too hard to resist.

And Dodgertown, as revered as it is, is something of a relic. The dugouts are literally trenches dug out of the ground with no roof overhead, and the closest urinals for the players during the game are in the right field corner. The player entrance is the same as the fan entrance, with a sign above the ramp that says "Players left, Public right," and the stadium seats just 6,500 people--charming enough for a single-A team, but in today's world of high-attendance spring training games Holman Stadium is busting at the seams. (The new ballpark in Glendale will have room for 12,000 people.)

I've been to spring training games in Florida, but alas I never made it to Vero Beach for a game. I did visit Vero Beach for a school visit once though, and I took the opportunity to drive over to Dodgertown and take some pictures. It's not just a stadium, it's a complex--a place where players like Campanella and Koufax and Snider and Drysdale and Robinson once stayed in little motel rooms and ate together in the cafeteria and worked out on sandy baseball fields. Even in the "off-season," Dodgertown still echoed with memories:

Sayonara, Dodgertown.

Hey--maybe the Mets will move in to replace the Dodgers the way they did in New York in 1964. But just like then, it wouldn't be the same.


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