O's spring home could be Dodgertown
Vero Beach facility looking for new tenants; Baltimore fits bill
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The Orioles walked through an open house on Monday, testing out the famed Dodgertown atmosphere that could well be in their future plans. The Vero Beach facility, home to the Dodgers for the last 50 years, is expected to turn over to a new team next spring and has been linked to Baltimore in several published reports.
There are several potential hangups that could keep that from happening -- chief among them the progress of the Dodgers' new spring facility in Glendale, Ariz. But if the Dodgers move out of Vero Beach on time -- and if the Orioles can't get necessary renovations done to their current home in Fort Lauderdale -- the deal could move forward.
Things are relatively murky because the Orioles won't speak to the Vero Beach situation, but officials in Indian River County have stated that they have entered into an option agreement with a Major League team. Baltimore's front office won't confirm or deny whether the Orioles are that team, but several news sources have pinpointed their involvement.
Baltimore has a contract to play in Fort Lauderdale Stadium for 2009 with an option for 2010, but can exit if it finds another spring home. Craig Callan, the Dodgers' vice president of Spring Training and Minor League facilities, spoke on the subject Monday.
"On behalf of the Dodgers, we have signed an exit agreement with Indian River County," he said prior to the 4-4 tie between the Orioles and Dodgers on Monday. "We've said that we're giving them a firm answer by March 31 that we are either staying for the duration of our contract or we are definitely leaving, which gives them the opportunity to work with another Major League team to hopefully fit right into our shoes."
Baltimore's situation is clouded by the presence of an executive airport that borders Fort Lauderdale Stadium, necessitating the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration for any changes. The Orioles have reached agreement with the city of Fort Lauderdale on things that need to be fixed, but nothing will move forward until the FAA grants approval.
The major problem with the Fort Lauderdale facility is that it doesn't allow enough room for Baltimore's Minor Leaguers to train alongside the parent club. The team's Minor Leaguers practice 200 miles away in Sarasota, Fla., an arrangement that makes many members of the Orioles' coaching staff look longingly at Dodgertown's spacious six-field alignment.
"To me, one of the biggest positives is that everyone would be here," said first-base coach John Shelby, a former Dodger and Oriole. "You've got all your guys together and you don't have to worry about that three-hour distance or not being able to keep up with your Minor League players. It's just easy access and it makes it worthwhile for the whole organization."
Third-base coach Juan Samuel, who played three seasons with Los Angeles, agreed with that sentiment.
"One of the advantages is having the Minor Leagues here," he said. "I think that makes everything a lot easier for the Major League club to pull guys in and out. It lets the manager give them a chance to play and then send them back down."
Samuel even went a step further, comparing the plush new home clubhouse at Dodgertown to the team's current facilities at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. In his mind, at least, there's little or no comparison.
"Even the coaches room and the manager's office," he said. "I remember [Fort Lauderdale Stadium] being like that the last time I was there -- in 1983, when the Yankees trained there. It's the same. It's just very outdated."
The facilities would even be a boon for the fans, who enjoy a largely unrivaled view of the players down both baselines. There are no dugouts for either team, and the stadium's 7,000 seats are all arranged in one uninterrupted lower horseshoe. There is no upper deck and there are no bleachers, but Holman Stadium can fit up to 3,000 fans in standing room.
"Everything here is up close," said Shelby. "That's one of the things that was a Dodgers tradition. Fans have always been able to reach out and touch you, and as far as security reasons, nothing has ever happened around here. ... That's what makes it a tremendous atmosphere and that's what makes this complex different from all the other complexes.
"I just hope it all works well, especially for us coming here. I know what this place is like, and I'm glad to be here."
Dodgertown also boasts 50 years of lore associated with one of the most celebrated franchises in baseball, and several streets and rooms are named in tribute of Dodger icons like Sandy Koufax and Roy Campanella. Indeed, even the name of the facility bears the current tenant's name, but Baltimore manager Dave Trembley said that could change.
"If they can build a new Yankee Stadium," he said Monday, "They can put new colors in Dodgertown."
This much is certain: There will eventually be new colors and a new team in Vero Beach. The Dodgers will train closer to their regular season home by 2010 at the latest, and Vero Beach will try to fill the vacancy as soon as possible. Things will take better shape by the end of March, when the Dodgers are set to inform the county of their ultimate plans.
Callan said that the latest the Dodgers could decide to stay in Vero Beach without penalty is July 15, another important date worked into the team's agreement with Indian River County. If the Dodgers don't make a final decision by that date -- and if they don't wind up training in Vero Beach next season -- they'll owe the county $575,000.
Callan said that fee would basically reimburse the county for not having a tenant next spring, but he reiterated multiple times that the Dodgers would like to settle things as soon as possible. They value their relationship with the local community, he said, and are only moving out of consideration for their fans on the West Coast.
"This is an awesome community. Any team that would have an opportunity to come here should jump on it," he said. "The people here -- not just the elected officials, but the entire population -- have been very firmly entrenched in the community for such a long period of time, so any team that comes in here would be very welcome and could fit right into our shoes and continue that relationship. There's always a few people I call 'cave' people -- citizens against virtually everything -- but overall reaction has been supportive and overall reaction is we can't wait to get another Major League team in here."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.