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Dodgertown without the Dodgers

We all knew this would be a rough spring in Vero Beach, the first for the community after the departure of the Dodgers from Dodgertown. Now Indian River County is scrambling to bring back baseball, but the chances are amateurs, not pros, will on the field in future years.
We all knew this would be a rough spring in Vero Beach. It’s the first time since 1946 that the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers have not trained in the quaint Florida community, as the team finally pulled the plug on a move to Arizona after several failed attempts.

Today, the storied Dodgertown complex sits empty, locked to the outer world. Vendor Aramark pulled out at the end of 2008, so the business center is closed as well. And while Indian River County officials worked hard to bring a team back to Dodgertown and Holman Stadium for spring training — Baltimore Orioles officials came the closest to pulling the trigger before the county withdrew its offer — none is forthcoming, and no one really expects a pro team to return.

We have mixed feelings about the loss of Dodgertown as a pro-baseball venue. Traditionalists loved the whole Dodgertown experience: Holman Stadium was a throwback venue, little more than a small grandstand with an open press box and chairback seating. Players sat on open benches; the place didn’t even have traditional dugouts. It was, and still is, a time capsule.

But fans these days don’t want time capsules — not most of them, anyway. Attendance at Dodgers spring training games had declined year by year, as the old Brooklyn Dodgers fans died off and the new Los Angeles Dodgers fans saw no point in traveling to Florida — why would you leave Los Angeles for Florida in March? Moving spring training to Arizona put the team far closer to its natural L.A. fan base. It was inevitable.

No one is talking about tearing down Dodgertown or Holman Stadium. Indeed, the most promising use for the complex comes from outfits looking to hold college tournaments in Vero Beach, making use of the Dodgertown dorms and meeting areas. Under this scenario, hundreds of college games would be held at the Dodgertown diamonds each spring. There would be a commitment to the history associated with Dodgertown.

Which is the best way to go. Ultimately, a ballpark is meaningless unless it’s used. Some in Indian River County want to see further attempts to bring in a pro team, and maybe there might be interest in the future. Maybe. But there’s no shame in turning the complex into a college venue, and it would expose hundreds of players and their families a glimpse at what baseball used to be — and the tradition will live on.

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