Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Vero Beach got burned in the stadium game

Sarasota is getting nervous, and what happened in Vero Beach is what’s got some elected officials hopping around like they’ve got fire ants in their pants.

Many a tear has to fall, the saying goes, but it’s all in the stadium game.

See, the city of Vero Beach and the county of Indian River in Florida were treated to a Dodger-blue screwing by the team from the city of the angels, and now the spring training complex that served the Dodgers for decades sits empty. Since the leaders of the city feared development, instead of letting the Dodgers pay off the bonds on the site and then sell it they kept it and are paying the interest on the bonds.

I remember back in 2001 when the “Dumb Dodger Deal” was being debated at government meetings and in the pages of the newspaper where I worked. The team’s owners waxed poetic about how much they loved Vero Beach and how the spring training tradition was so strong and they wanted to keep it, but the city and county needed to reciprocate or they would enact the nuclear option, and move to Arizona.

Oh, but there was hope! If the city and county floated bonds and bought the complex for a couple of tens of millions of dollars, then leased it back to the team for a buck a year, why, they’d ink a deal to stay in Vero Beach for 20 years.

Those in favor believed that whatever it cost, it was worth it to keep the Dodgers’ spring training in Vero Beach until 2021. After all, many people had moved to Vero Beach to be near their beloved Dodgers, and you didn’t want some shortsighted cheapskates let the team head off to the land of cactus when some tax money could keep them here. The money borrowed could have gone to libraries, schools, roads, etc., but the idea of Vero Beach without a team was like cats without cat litter.

Opponents were vocal, and made some good points. Their ads against what they termed the “Dumb Dodger Deal” were in the paper and the letters column. They said there was a lot in Vero Beach already, and if the Dodgers left, well, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Ultimately, the Dodgers played the “amateur baseball” card. They’d let school teams and tournaments use Holman Stadium, they promised, and the city and county would make money hosting tournaments and other events.

The deal went through, and I went to “A” games and read in the scorecards how the Dodgers’ ownership and the city and county leaders had secured the future of spring training in Vero Beach with the deal.

So I recently read a few stories in the media about how Dodgertown is now a ghost town and local businesses are suffering. The Dodgers are not having spring training in Vero Beach anymore. What happened? What awful offense did the city of Vero Beach and the county of Indian River commit that caused the team to leave?

Well, nothing. The team announced that it had decided that it was more logical to have spring training close to its L.A. base in Arizona, and since it didn’t own the Dodgertown complex, it could just walk away. Of course, the political leaders figured they’d better try to grab another team, but that hasn’t worked out.

So articles in the national media have told of the empty stadium, which is making Sarasota worry about what will happen in 2010, after the Reds are gone. The Reds had made some pretty hefty demands and were turned down, so they are off to Goodyear, Ariz. Some in Sarasota are worried about the city becoming a ghost town next spring.

I don’t think that will happen. There are lots of people in Sarasota who don’t come here for baseball.

When it comes to the stadium game, though, cities in Florida have to beware of the “We love it here but we’ll leave in a half-heartbeat if we don’t get what we want” game. Vero Beach played the game, and got screwed anyway. That’s baseball.

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March 20, 2009 - Posted by | The business of sports | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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