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Saving Historic Dodgertown

Holman Stadium

Your feel-good story of the day: After the Los Angeles Dodgers moved spring training operations to Arizona, the future of Vero Beach’s Historic Dodgertown was in doubt — until O’Malley family members stepped in to turn things around.

There’s no doubt Historic Dodgertown is one of baseball’s most historic sites, a former naval air station converted to a spring training camp by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948 and serving as the team’s spring home until 2008. The camp — unique for its time, complete with barracks, food facilities, workout fields and a golf course — was a key cog in the integration of MLB, giving Jackie Robinson and teammates a sanctuary from the rampant racism of the day.

When the Dodgers left for Arizona, the future of the facility was in doubt. Minor League Baseball took over operations and lost a million dollars over two years before walking away. With the site up barely operational and eyed for potential redevelopment, Peter O’Malley — who spent many of his formative years in Dodgertown — stepped up to present a plan for running Dodgertown as a multiuse sports camp. He enlisted his sister, Terry O’Malley Seidler, as well as two former Dodgers, Chan Ho Park and Hideo Nomo, and worked with Indian River County (which actually owns Dodgertown) on a redevelopment plan with new fields for softball, soccer, rugby, lacrosse and football.

Sports tourism is a growing industry, and the new Historic Dodgerstown is well-attuned to that trend, attracting a wide range of paying customers, ranging from the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes and Edmonton Eskimos to a Norwegian swimming club. The new Historic Dodgertown isn’t yet profitable, O’Malley says, but a break-even point is possible soon. From The New York Times:

For those who spent any time at Dodgertown from 1948 to 2008, the memories can be irrepressible. That quality explains why O’Malley was so keen to preserve it. He said that the financial losses had shrunk steadily each year since 2012 and that the complex was within sight of breaking even. If it turns a profit, O’Malley said, he will reinvest it in the facility.

To be sure, he has personal reasons for saving Dodgertown. But O’Malley’s goal is to make it profitable so that after he is gone, people less sentimental than he will be motivated to keep it alive for people like Popp and his Alouettes to carve out new memories.

“It wasn’t only me that loved it,” O’Malley said. “Everyone did. You would walk around those pathways and bump into the players, wives, coaches, writers, trainers. It was like a small college campus, and it brought everyone together at that critical time of the year. There’s just too much history to let it disappear.”

And, much to the delight of pro baseball fans, Holman Stadium hosts High Class A Florida State League ball annually in the form of the Jackie Robinson Celebration Game, on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first MLB game on April 15, 1947.

RELATED STORIES: Second Jackie Robinson Game at Dodgertown announced for 2015; O’Conner lays out initial plans for Dodgertown;

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