April 17, 2014

Dodgertown Becomes Forgotten Ghost Town as Spring Training Begins

As the Dodgers ramp up Spring Training meetings and the focus for all things Dodgers shifts to Glendale, Arizona (home of the new $80 million facility that the Dodgers and White Sox share), some members of the Dodger organization were reminiscing about Dodgertown and Vero Beach.

In particular, Billy DeLury admitted to the Los Angeles Times that he missed the team’s old Florida home. “You’ve got to,” he said. “I spent 45 years in Vero Beach but it’s over with now. You have to turn the page.”

Torre was more forward-focused as he cited the short distance betweeen the facilities in the Cactus League and the opportunity to spend less time travelling and more time on the field.

Cheers to The Canadian Press for doing a story on the forgotten Dodgertown – a piece that was really sobering particularly given the tough economic climate in this country.

Not only did 100 people lose their jobs when the Dodgers switched locations, but a small town that had relied on baseball tourism as a revenue source is feeling the pinch. There’s no revenue coming in from baseball-related activities and the county estimates it is paying $102,000 per month to keep up the facility. “Keeping up” is a relative term, however, as the description by the Canadian Press so vividly shows:

The heart-shaped lake, which late owner Walter O’Malley had constructed so he could “see his heart” when he flew over, is filled with algae. The Dodgertown golf course, originally constructed in part for black players who were barred from playing in town, has been closed for years. Its grass is brown and patchy. The 11 mph speed limit now means nothing, because no cars drive through the padlocked fences.

The town is so intertwined with Dodger baseball that the local elementary school is named Dodgertown. Johnathan Broxton was on the cover of the phone book in Vero Beach last year. More startling, the county and city are saddled with paying off the majority of a $17 million bond that was approved in 2001 to upgrade facilities and ensure the Dodgers stayed in Vero Beach. In a cruel twist of fate, roughly 1/2 of the bond is designed to be paid off with tourist and sales taxes – two sources that have dried up considerably once the Dodgers left town.

I’m all for supporting Camelback Ranch and the future of the Dodgers (I live in Scottsdale and will get to see lots of spring training games now) but turning a blind eye to the history (and questions about the future) of Dodgertown just doesn’t feel right to me. Here’s hoping Vero Beach and Dodgertown get a new life and a new name soon.