Saturday, February 21, 2015

Port St Lucie to Vero Beach and Dodgertown/West Palm Beach to Jacksonville: Spring Training Part 5

Baseball Shaped Street Light and Palm Tree
(Flickr user Wally Gobetz/CC)

Tradition Field and Port St Lucie are behind us as we return to Interstate 95 and continue to head north through Florida.

Thanks to Cross Country Roads we have a dash cam videos of the drive we are making today. Its a short trip of twenty miles.

Vero Beach is the home of Dodgertown, for 61 years every spring Dodgertown was a beloved place for baseball fans to get up close and personal with the players. As a lifelong Dodger fan this is a must stop for me on the Spring Training route.

Dodgertown Sign
(Flickr user adamclyde/CC)

In 1947 Dodgers owner Branch Rickey and co-owner Walter O'Malley were facing the problem of how to deal with training the team that had the first black player, Jackie Robinson, when training was held in a deep southern segregated state.

The team tried training in Cuba, due to its having a more integrated population, but it did not work out well due to local population being more interested in the Cuban Baseball League thus leading to minimal gate revenue.Half of that season they came back to Florida where they were based in Jacksonville with Robinson staying in the home of local black druggist rather than with the team.

For the 1948 Spring Training, the owners decided to move the team into a decommissioned Naval Air Station in Vero Beach Florida. It allowed the team to have, on its private property, integration. In Dodgertown, it was said a player wasn't black and white, he was only blue.

The barracks used during World War II were made into players dormitories. A dining hall, a recreation hall and a pool all provided entertainment and food for the players,  There were 2 tennis courts and a golf course. Life Magazine ran a nice pictorial of the facility in 1948. Its worth checking out HERE.

Vintage Dodgertown Postcard
(Flickr user Boston Public Library/CC)

Of course, in addition to the dorms and rec facilities there had to be ball fields. Over time it would expand until there were 6 baseball diamonds in Dodgertown. In the early 1950's, after assuming complete ownership of the team, Walter O'Malley had a heart shaped pond put in as a tribute to his wife.

A path from the diamonds from the dorms, did not allow cars so players had a long walk along the pond with a bridge to cross before they reached the playing areas. Fans were welcome to line the walkways and the bridge. It was a popular place for autograph hounds to try to get the attention of their favorite players. And there were a lot of players.Not only did the Brooklyn Dodgers train here, but so did all of their farm teams from around the country. Over 800 players were there in 1951.

The Bridge in Dodgertown
Fans Line The Famous Bridge to Catch A Glimpse Of the Star Players (Flickr user Wally Gobetz/CC)
Holman Field, built in 1951 was designed so that any seat had excellent sight lines. It was an experiment in innovations that O'Malley hoped to use in Brooklyn where he planned on building a new stadium for the Dodgers.

O'Malley was thwarted in his plans to build the Brooklyn Stadium of his dreams. Finally in 1957 O'Malley moved the team to Los Angeles where he could have his stadium built. Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles adopted many of the design innovations pioneered on the smaller scaled Holman Field in Vero Beach.

Holman Field
Holman Field (Flickr user Tom Hagerty/CC)
After moving to Los Angeles, the Dodgers continued training in Vero Beach until the 2014 season when they became the last West Coast team to leave Florida for faculties in the Phoenix, Arizona area.

It was the end of an era. The site Historic Dodgertown has a list of quotes about the place. Here are some of my favorites:
“No other place on earth holds as many memories for me as Dodgertown.”
Dodgers’ Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully 
“Spring training at Dodgertown was something very special to me because of its rich history and the people who experienced Dodgertown. It was a wonderful time. We were isolated there and players spent a lot of time together and we grew very close. When I got there, I had the opportunity to meet and play with so many great players—Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Carl Furillo and on and on. These were all the folks I rooted for in Brooklyn. I have so many great memories. Dodgertown is truly a historic place.”
Dodgers’ Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax 
“I get very emotional when I think about Dodgertown and my first spring training. It was great for a rookie who just wanted to play baseball. It has everything you could possibly want to get ready for the season. You can eat, sleep and train there and never have to go anywhere else. It brings back a lot of good memories for me.”
Dodgers pitching great Fernando Valenzuela 
“I first went to Dodgertown shortly after I turned 18. I had grown up in the projects in Washington, D.C. and didn’t know anything about the world and had no clue about life. My growth as a man started at Dodgertown. I got to live my passion for baseball and it all started when I got to go to Dodgertown.”
Former Dodgers All-Star shortstop Maury Wills 
“I had images of Dodgertown from listening to and watching games being broadcast from there when I was a kid growing up in Santa Monica. When I was traded to the Dodgers, I got a chance to visit this magical place. Dodgertown was the Disneyland of baseball. With its fields, living quarters, dining room, lounge and hallways filled with the history of the Dodgers, it had great facilities to get you ready for the championship season. I fell so in love with it, I now make my home in Vero Beach.”
Former Dodgers outfielder and now team broadcaster Rick Monday 
“I grew up in a household where my dad was a huge Brooklyn Dodgers fan as a kid and I heard about Dodgertown and had seen pictures of it, but as a player that’s where you really understood the history of the Dodgers. You realized you were a part of more than just the ball club you were playing on at that particular time. As a player at Dodgertown, the thing I remember most is the interaction with the fans and the accessibility the fans had, unlike any other spring training site. It made for a very intimate environment. It was very peaceful, very calming. It was baseball in its purest sense.”
Former Dodger first baseman and now FOX broadcaster Eric Karros
This video offers a fond look back an the history of Dodgertown that is a bit of a tearjerker. It is followed by a tour of the recently closed facility.

Today the city of Vero Beach has converted the facilities for use as the Vero Beach Sports Village to be used for sports team building and tournaments, but Dodgertown will always hold a special place in the memories of 60 years worth of Dodger fans.

Playlist Additions

Growing up, I remember Dodger broadcasts would play the song, It's A Beautiful Day For A Ball Game Later in life, I discovered a record by the Count Basie Orchestra that celebrated Jackie Robinson, the famous Dodger who broke the color barrier of Major League Baseball.

  • It's A Beautiful Day For A Ball Game Harry Simeone Songsters 1:44
  • Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball? The Count Basie Orchestra 2:28

Coming Attractions

Next Week: We will be wrapping up our look at the Blues Brothers, from Chicago Illinois at the Start of Route 66.
Two Weeks: We head North out of Old Town in San Diego, California along the route of old Highway 101.
Three Weeks: Returning to Vero Beach, Florida we will take a look at a few other attractions around the town before we continue North on Interstate 95..

Mileage Stats

Route 66: 0 Miles/1 State/1001 Tracks/270 Videos/40 Posts
Highway 101: 22 Miles/2 Countries/1 State/625 Tracks/363 Videos/30 Posts
Interstate 95: 143 Miles/1 State/89 Tracks/144 Videos/15 Posts

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