Los Angeles Dodgers' 2009 Spring Training Expected to Bring Major Changes

J.C. AyvaziSenior Analyst IFebruary 16, 2009

You could say the Los Angeles Dodgers have cut their last tie to their Brooklyn heritage by ending their long association with the city of Vero Beach, FL. Or you could simply acknowledge the fact that the last tie has been slowly dissolving over the decades and has finally turned to dust.

The fact that remains is the Dodgers' 2009 spring training will be held in Glendale, AZ, at a new facility called Camelback Ranch being shared with the Chicago White Sox. Whether the name of Camelback Ranch will ever have the same panache as Dodgertown is a fair question.

As the community leader for the Los Angeles Dodgers on Bleacher Report, I conducted a roundtable of some long-time Dodger fans to address the question of the move, look back at some memories from Vero, and look forward to this spring in Glendale.

Joining me are a couple of Bleacher Report regulars—Jeff Little (who is also a Bleacher Report community leader for the Oakland Raiders) and Allen Lieu. Also contributing are some Dodger fans of long acquaintance—Dr. Mark deLeón, Carlo Banki, and Fontello Allen.

Opinions have been rendered on the move and the reasons behind it. The general consensus is money is the motivating factor. This move will save the Dodgers a great deal in springtime expenses. Travel to Florida for players, staff, executives, and all necessary equipment is reduced by a tremendous degree.

The move will also make it much easier for Dodger fans to travel to spring training. The trek to Florida was an expensive one for most Angelinos—one that was more often than not declined. Of the members of the roundtable, only one had even set foot in Vero Beach.

Mark traveled to Florida to attend the 2003 Orange Bowl where he witnessed USC beginning their current run of dominance by destroying the Iowa Buckeyes. As it was early in January, the Dodgers had not yet arrived when he visited and Dodgertown was mostly quiet.

Therein lies the greatest motive for the move—a lack of Dodger fans and their wallets traveling to Vero. In the last few years, it was sadly common for fans of the visiting team to outnumber Dodger fans at Holman Stadium.

This is the result of the ravages of time reducing the number of Brooklyn Dodger fans. A trip to Florida for New Yorkers is akin to a trip to Las Vegas by Los Angeles residents.

Most dismayed at the loss of Dodgertown as the spring destination for the team are Fontello and Jeff. They are strong traditionalists who think of Vero, Vin Scully, and Spring Training as a continuous link that helps flavor Dodger history.

The old barracks which first housed the players, the heart-shaped lake Walter O'Malley had created as a present for his wife, orange groves, golf courses, and numerous former players floating about provide a living link to the Dodger legacy and are vibrant touchstones that will always conjure up memories of what Dodgertown at Vero Beach was about.

No longer will young pitchers toe the same mounds Dodger legends like Sandy Koufax, Don Sutton, and Fernando Valenzuela worked on. Batters will not swing in the same cages that held the likes of Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, and Steve Garvey.

Campy's corner, where former catcher Roy Campanella gave advice to young backstops Steve Yeager, Mike Scioscia, and Mike Piazza now stands quiet.

The remaining roundtable members have varying levels of remorse mitigated by the knowledge that a trip to Arizona is far easier to accomplish than traveling across the country.

To the vast majority of Dodger fans, stories about spring training were almost fictional; given they were read in articles, occasionally heard on the radio, and rarely seen on TV. You almost had to take it on faith since there was scant tangible evidence to them.

I do remember the old outfield with no fence, just a berm with a series of palm trees acting as sentries. That is until Richie Allen ran face first into a tree at full speed in 1971 while chasing a fly ball. A chain link fence soon was erected to protect the trees from wayward outfielders.

There was the story of Tommy Lasorda being trapped in his room, the phone disconnected, and the door held fast by a rope—courtesy of pranksters. Allegedly, Jay Johnstone and Jerry Reuss were involved, but at that time, the team had numerous suspects capable of setting the wheels in motion for such a stunt.

All will remember the famous incident in 1988 when Jesse Orosco lined the inside of Kirk Gibson's cap with eye black. Gibby's explosion jolted the Dodgers out of their lethargy and a World Championship was claimed over a supposedly superior Oakland Athletics squad.

Arizona will bring different stories but ones that Dodger fans will have a far better chance of witnessing first hand. One of the traditions that Dodger owner Frank McCourt has promised will be retained is the ability for interaction between the players and fans.

As in Vero, the Dodger players will walk among the fans to the practice fields and stadium. There will just be more L.A. fans populating the training site. Allen is among those who are looking for forward to this opportunity. The high pricing for seats to exhibition games is a concern for him though.

The Dodger website reports all of the $30 tickets behind the dugouts are sold out. More expensive seating between the dugouts remains. Outfield berm tickets are $8—bring a blanket to stake out your spot.

Broadcasting traditions under the O'Malley's were all games on radio, usually with a 10:00 A.M. start and the Sunday games on Los Angeles television. Those were phased out after FOX purchased the organization.

A check of the Dodger and KABC radio web sites shows few games being available in Los Angeles on radio and none on television as of Feb. 14. The first spring game, weekend games, and a couple of weekday night games are the only ones currently scheduled to be aired.

(After checking another source, Channel 9 in Los Angeles will have three spring games from Arizona - March 1st, 15th, and 22nd. April 2nd and 4th from Dodger Stadium will also be televised. However the page at Dodger.com still shows no spring TV games.)

This is a particularly shabby way to treat the fans and a policy that needs to be seriously reconsidered. Just like in the move to Arizona, its roots are in cash flow as it is likely this radio silence stems from contracts KABC has with the syndicated radio programs of Joe Scarborough, Paul Harvey, and Sean Hannity.

For those who do travel to Arizona, there are plenty of things to do when not at Camelback Ranch. Some roundtable members will cart their golf clubs and see how the desert conditions affect the flight of their drives. Mark suspects the divining rod Fontello uses as a driver will still be able to find water.

Carlo has spent a fair amount of time in Arizona during his college days and highly recommends the nightlife that can be found about half an hour away in Scottsdale. He was also quite impressed by the shopping experience one can find in there.

For those with a hankering to see some Old West history, traveling about three and a half hours (according to Google Maps) south on the Highway 10 will bring you to Tombstone—site of the famous shootout between the Earp's and the Clanton's at the O.K. Corral.

A trip north to see the Grand Canyon would take about the same three and a half hours to reach the closest southern edge at Grand Canyon Village. If you wanted to go to the visitor center on the northern edge, that would take about nine and a half hours, making that an unrealistic destination.

However, the majority of the roundtable felt a trip to spring training should concentrate on the subject at hand. There is plenty to see at the new complex and much to discuss with the new season beckoning.

The place is different, but the name on the front of the jersey remains the same. That is what matters most to this roundtable, continuing their tradition of voracious support of the Los Angeles Dodgers. You are invited to join us, for this year should be another wondrous ride.


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