Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Early Vero Beach Nostalgia

Anyone who has worked in or around baseball knows that in January and February, I can be REALLY tough to fill column inches with interesting stories. Papers send their baseball beat writers to Spring Training in early February…right around the time pitchers and catchers report. Those two groups report earlier than the position players to start working out and warming up for the Spring. However, most of what they're doing is really boring and lasts only an hour or two per day.

Dodgers beat writers were more fortunate than most. 2008 is the last year the Dodgers will hold Spring Training at Holman Stadium in historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. Starting in 2009, the Dodgers will have a brand new, bells-and-whistles facility in Glendale, Arizona. The team has been trudging down to Vero Beach for 60 years. Players like Robinson, Newcome, Campanella, Koufax, Drysdale, Garvey, Valenzuela, Gibson and Hershiser brought their gear there every February to gear up for the coming season.

Soon to be nothing but a memory.

By all accounts it's a magical place rich with history and full of nostalgia. Old players still drop by (often unannounced) to visit with old friends, swap stories, give pointers and check out the fresh talent. Sandy Koufax, who lives nearby, visited Dodgertown twice last week. Since prospective Dodgers are pulling on their cleats and running the bases there for the very last time, stories are cropping up all over the place trying to capture the essence of Dodgertown before it's gone forever (they will likely tear down most, if not all, of it to move the Orioles in next Spring).

I find it interesting that for every story that looks back fondly on Holman Stadium and bemoans the fact that the Dodgers are leaving (because there will undoubtedly never be another place like it), there's another that looks back fondly on the place while asserting "we're leaving – hallelujah!"

I have to admit, I was never fortunate enough to go to Spring Training. I really wanted to make it out this year before they left, but it's (sadly) way too expensive. I'm torn – like the writers seem to be – about whether or not I'm upset about it or not.

I understand the economics. Moving to Arizona means a newer, nice facility. The city of Glendale is providing the team with excellent incentives to "come and stay a while." It means a 6 hour drive instead of a 6 hour plane ride for Dodgers fans. It means a family of four can make the entire trip in 2009 for what it would cost for a single person to go in 2008. I also understand that the new stadium will have zero history. There will be no "ghosts of Dodgers past" haunting the halls; no more having an old-timer point to a part of the complex and tell an amazing story about something that happened there. There will be no more history, no more roots.

The new stadium will probably be soulless...but geographically closer!

On the one hand, I'm really sad that I won't be able to ever set foot in Dodgertown. I'm a huge fan of and believer in tradition and history (don't get me started on my rant about why newfangled baseball stadiums have no soul). On the other hand, next February I'll actually get to GO to Spring Training. I'll get to help be a part of imbuing the NEW Dodgertown with new tradition and history. I'll actually get to be a part of it instead of watching from afar. And I'm already so excited about it I can hardly contain myself.

The stories and memories will live forever, and let's be honest: if you're not a part of the Dodger organization or part of the media group that covers them, you aren't privy to most of the history and memories that are being tossed around in the media lately. So those moments have always been secondhand. Bottom line for me: next year the dream of being able to attend Spring Training and see all the players prepare for the upcoming season in a more relaxed atmosphere will actually be a reachable reality. That trumps pretty much everything – it's much cooler to be able to be a part of the history than to have to watch it, longingly, from afar.

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