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Dodgertown "a ghost town" for minor leaguers

Brent Leach and Javy Guerra

Dodger minor leaguers Brent Leach (left) and Javy Guerra will be some of the last to leave Dodgertown. Front page photo courtesy Jon Soo Hoo.

By Chuck King

Vero Beach, Fla. – Plenty of fanfare accompanied the Los Angeles Dodgers’ farewell to Dodgertown.

Well, accompanied the major league Dodgers, anyway.

Moving to a new spring training facility in Arizona next spring, Los Angeles said goodbye to its spring training home of 61 years on March 19.

The minor leaguers, however, stayed behind for 10 more days to complete their spring rituals.

“Now it just feels like a ghost town hanging around over there,” said pitcher Brent Leach, who expects to start the season at Inland Empire. “The fans don’t come out anymore.”

The Dodgers plan to spend next spring in an estimated $80 million facility in Glendale, leaving behind the most storied spring training facility in baseball.

Known for its fan friendliness, open dugouts and pristine grounds, Dodgertown was the ballpark where Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

“Leaving will be sad,” former Dodger pitcher and current minor league pitching coach Charlie Hough said. “It’s been there for a long time. It’s a great organization. It will be a sad move for some of who have been here a long time, but it’s necessary.”

The Dodgers are moving in part to be closer to their fan base. The proximity to other cities will cut down on the time spent on buses, which could exceed three hours in Florida. There will also be more attractions near the facility to entertain fans and players.

“A lot of people don’t like Vero Beach because there is nothing around there to do, but when you have guys like this guy, that’s a good thing,” said Leach, pointing to teammate Javy Guerra. “When we move to Arizona next year, there will be too many places to get in trouble.”

On a recent off day, Guerra left Dodgertown to visit family in Tampa, a couple of hours across the state. He returned to a $1,000 fine for leaving camp without permission.

“Here, you are limited for stuff you can do in a day – go to the beach or the mall,” said Guerra, who’s experienced Arizona life during instructional ball.

Catcher Mike Wallach, whose father Tim also played for the Dodgers, still sees plenty of good in Dodgertown.

“I heard guys coming from other organizations say it’ better than some other places,” Wallach said. “The facilities are nice. We get treated well. We get breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can’t beat that.”

Three meals aside, Wallach is among those looking forward to the move west. The California native figures more family members and friends will visit in Arizona.

As excited as many of the young Dodgers are to see their new spring training home, there is still a possibility it may not be ready for 2009. Various media outlets have reported concerns that clubhouse and training facilities may not be completed for 2009.

The Dodgers have a July 15th deadline should they choose to exercise the option on their Dodgertown lease for another year. There has been speculation that the minor league clubs may return to Vero Beach one final time, while the big league club makes do in Arizona.

The Dodgers no longer have a minor league team that plays its regular season games at Dodgertown. The Vero Beach Dodgers left the Florida State League after the 2006 season.

Tampa Bay’s High-A team played in Vero Beach last season and will be there again when the season opens on Thursday.

Check out my blog for more on wild minor league promotions and minor league baseball.

 

 

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