Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dodgers' Last Game In Vero Beach - Dodgertown No More

The Los Angeles Dodgers played their final game at Holman Stadium in Vero Beach, Florida today. It marks the end of a sixty-year relationship between a team, a town and history.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the Houston Astros 12 to 10 in a game at Holman Stadium, Vero Beach.

Something that will never happen again.

What happened in the game - Raphael Furcal going 4 for 5 with 2 triples; Jason Repko's fight to make the team, by raising his spring average to .343 - except for those of us who read box scores of exhibition games on the Internet, won't matter soon. In a couple of days, the team will pack up their belongings and head west - first to Arizona to finish out the spring season, then on to LA.

But what will be remembered by those who chose to is that today, St. Patrick's Day, 2008, was the end of the line for Vero Beach. And with it comes the end of the old Dodgers legacy.

In 2009, the Dodgers will hold spring training in a new facility in Glendale, Arizona.

Vin Scully, Dodgers' play-by-play voice now entering his 59th year with the team put it this way:

"I guess really this is cutting the umbilical cord. For 50 years we've really still carried the residue of Brooklyn, but it's time now for them to get closer to their fan base in Los Angeles."

And the fan base in Los Angeles, most of whom aren't old enough to remember who Sandy Koufax was, now get to grow closer to their team even as the team grows farther away from one of the richest histories in sports.

Dodgertown, was the co-creation of Dodger boss Branch Rickey and Vero Beach Cadillac dealer Bud Holman back in 1948. It was Holman who contacted the visionary Rickey the year before and sold him on the idea of planting a training facility on 2,000 acres of military base in the middle of rural Florida.

"One more time," public address man Dick Crago said into the microphone, "Welcome to another fine day of baseball at Holman Stadium."

On last time. One last game. One last sell-out crowd of 7,327.

In 60 years, Vero Beach, and Holman Stadium have seen a lot of changes, and made a few changes of their own. Holman Stadium, at the request of black Dodger players to then Vice-President of Operations and future team owner Peter O'Malley, became the first Grapefruit League stadium - the first southern stadium - to integrate the grand stands 1961. One of the players, left fielder Tommy Davis, in his autobiography Tales From the Dodgers Dugout said, "It didn't dawn on [O'Malley] at the time. But to his credit, the next day everything was gone. They white-washed all that stuff. And we had to physically take the black people to seat them in other spots around the stadium... we just took them and told them to sit wherever they wanted to from now on. That was the integration of Holman Stadium."

Just for the record, Geoff Geary won it for the Astros. Starter Chad Billingsley who worked 5 innings, took the loss. The last loss.

"This is very emotional for me," said one-time Brooklyn Dodger fan and better known TV celebrity Larry King. King attended the game the day before against the Boston Red Sox.

Oddly enough, this season the Dodgers will be celebrating another stadium from their past, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It was the Coliseum that was home to the Dodgers during their first 4 years in LA. In this, the 50th anniversary of the team's move from Brooklyn, the Coliseum will host an exhibition game between the Dodgers and the Red Sox on March 29th.

I wonder if, years after the team has become a part of the community in Glendale, AZ, there will be any kind of tribute game in Vero where not only the stadium, but the elementary school (Dodgertown Elementary) bear the name of the memories of history. After the proposed acquisition of the facility by the Baltimore Orioles, will it even matter? In this little baseball village, where the streets have names like Vin Scully Way and Roy Campanella Boulevard, will it be long before Jackie Robinson Lane, the main street in Dodgertown, is renamed Brooks Robinson Drive?

The Big Dodger in the Sky forbid!

"It's a sad day, but it had to happen," 80-year-old Dodger icon Tom Lasorda said. "It's the right thing to do, to make our Los Angeles fans happy, and it's something we'll have to accept."

If you say so, Tommy.

Being St. Patrick's Day, the Dodgers wore the traditional green caps. Being "Everybody's Irish Day", the mood was more like an Irish wake.

"Today is tough," Tom Lasorda said. "Tomorrow will be worse."

You said it.

Copyright © 2008 Bill Friday

1 comment: