Sunday, March 2, 2008

Tour De Spring Training: Vero Beach

The Bicycle Stories' "Tour de Spring Training" arrived this morning at Florida's most historic spring training site -- Dodgertown in Vero Beach. This living, breathing outdoors baseball spring training museum dates back to 1953 with Brooklyn's immortal Boys of Summer that include names such as Robinson, Hodges, Snider, Reese and Newcombe.

What makes this spring so special and relevant -- and sad -- is that the Dodgers are leaving Dodgertown and quaint Folman Stadium this month for fancy, money-generating, big new digs in Arizona. The last Dodgers spring game at Dodgertown is March 17 before the Dodgers wing it west for some spring training games in Arizona. Today was the second game of an abbreviated 11-game schedule at good ol' Homan Stadium.

The heart of Dodgertown is Holman Stadium, which really isn't a stadium at all. The ball yard where the Dodgers play their exhibition games has no structural facade, that is, there's a V-shaped structure with rows of seats down the leftfield and rightfield lines that has fans literally on top of the action and the players. Vegetation and trees are interspersed on the small hill fans walk up to reach their seats. There are even small trees along the narrow concourse behind the last row of seats.

I hear the Baltimore Orioles are leaving their decrepit spring home in Fort Lauderdale to replace the Dodgers. But it just won't be the same to not see the Dodger blue detailing the complex's fields, signs and buildings.

It was one of those picture-postcard spring training days today at Dodgertown, where temperatures in the mid-70s, a pleasant cool breeze out of the north and a cloudless sky drew a packed house to the ballpark. I'll be back, I'm sure.

The ball yard can get cramped and tight with so many fans crammed onto a tiny concourse and sidewalk that goes by a few concessions stands. You can always go to other bigger concrete spring stadiums like Legends/Steinbrenner Field right here in Tampa or the Cardinals/Marlins complex in Jupiter. But nothing is like Dodgertown's Holman Stadium.

The beauty of spring training is that fans can get real close to ballplayers in small, quaint ballparks where the atmosphere is laid back and relaxed. Behind every fan at the ball park is a great personal story that you never read about. That's funny since most sportswriters covering these baseball clubs are fans themselves. Yet, they don't really mix with the sun-drenched fans to explore these story gems. Instead, they usually hole themselves up in the media box or the press lunchroom. I personally enjoy chattting it up with fans -- it's easy to make connections.

I saw Mets fans wearing jerseys of everyone from Tom Seaver to Edgardo Alfonzo. Lots of Mets rooters donned jerseys with the names of new guys like Johan Santana to . . .

reliables like David Wright to oldies but goodies like . . .

Casey Stengel

I love fans who score these "exhibition" games where a zillion unknown players with numbers in the 70s, 80s and 90s play the final four or five innings in games that are pretty much glorified scrimmages with other clubs.

I enjoyed chatting with this guy, Scott Costi from Thousand Oaks, Calif., who flew to Central Florida for a mere two days to catch this game with his son. Amazing how far people will travel to soak up this baseball church.

Last call for beer by the beer guy. This fella usually works the stadium in Fort Lauderdale where the Baltimore Orioles train. But he was here in Holman Stadium. Maybe, because the Orioles are taking over Dodgertown next season, the beer guy was doing a little beer-vending scouting of the premises and aisles.

And for you history buffs out there, take a peak at these plaques mounted on the media pressbox wall behind home plate.

Note the "atomic action" phrase. Couldn't even call it what it was -- a bomb.

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