Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Second inning at the stadium game

In July 2001, I moved from Lake Worth, Fla., to Vero Beach, Fla., to take a job with the local newspaper, the Vero Beach Press Journal.

Vero Beach was then known as the site of L.A. Dodgers spring training, and there was a whole complex there that included practice ballfields, the very beautiful Holman Stadium, living spaces for players, a convention center, a golf course and more. After spring training the facilities were still in use because there was a Florida State League team, the Vero Beach Dodgers, that played there.

Dodger fans had been moving to Vero Beach for years to be near their beloved team when they retired, and the people of “Dodgertown” really did bleed “Dodger blue.” There was even an elementary school bearing the Dodgertown name.

But baseball is a business, and the owners of the Dodgers wanted to see some more cash, so they approached the governments in Vero Beach city and Indian River County and made their pitch: Unless the governments floated bonds and bought the baseball complex, they would leave Vero Beach. They wanted to stay, but it was time for the local governments to show their “commitment” to the team, and in return the team would show its commitment to the area — and stay.

Arizona cities were making pitches and had attracted other teams, and the Dodgers were among those that were hearing the call of the Cactus League.

I was getting up to speed on local issues, something important if I was going to be a good copy editor, and the paper’s readers were vehemently for or against it. The opponents were adamant, and referred to the deal as the “DDD,” the “Dumb Dodger Deal.”

Those in favor of the deal worried about the consequences of a Dodger departure from the area. Losing spring training in an area without much other economic development could be a disaster, especially as all of the Internet businesses that arrived in Indian River County had cratered, leaving lots of unemployed people around trying to eke out a life in the low-wage, no benefit jobs that were available in the region.

The Dodgers had warned that if the city and county did not step up to the plate, the convention center would close and the golf course would close, and those workers and more would lose their jobs.

Despite the opposition, the city and county made a deal, floated bonds and bought the Dodger complex. The Dodgers, in the programs sold for games of the Vero Beach Class A team, touted their new-found commitment to Vero Beach and Indian River County now that they were out of the real estate business in the area, and had signed a 20-year deal to stay in the area.

A few months later, after the 9/11 attacks, both the golf course and the convention center closed, and all those workers lost their jobs. Other businesses cut back, too, and some felt that it had all been a big con game played on the local government. All the bad things that were going to happen if the Dodgers didn’t get a deal had happened despite the Dodgers getting a deal.

People might have reassured themselves that at least the area had Dodgers spring training and the Class A Florida State League and Rookie League Gulf Coast League teams, but the Dodgers eventually decided to move their operations out of Vero Beach and to Arizona. The minor league teams left, and then, in 2008, the Dodgers played their last spring training games in Vero Beach. Their very last spring training games were not even played in Vero Beach, a slap in the face to the dedicated fans who had come out to see them through the years.

What happened? What happened was that the Dodgers seem to have always wanted to leave Vero Beach, and selling the complex appeared to be part of the plan. The Dodgers had guaranteed the bonds the city and county floated, and while the owners did try to get out of paying them off, they eventually did.

Today, Vero Beach is trying to recruit another major league team to its baseball complex, and there has been talk of the Baltimore Orioles leaving Fort Lauderdale and moving up there.

And in Sarasota, the pattern is starting again. In the third inning, I’ll talk about the stadium there, and what may be going on.


September 11, 2008 - Posted by | The business of sports | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. We went to our last game at Shea a few weeks ago. The new stadium is looking good, all done up with dark brown brick, although I am sad to see the old place go down in history.

    Taking a trip to southern Cal. Will catch up with you when I return.

    Comment by Diana-NYC | September 12, 2008 | Reply

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