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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Spring Training Fever: Tony Jackson On The Threatened End Of Dodgertown

Tony Jackson writes that the Dodgers are thinking about leaving Dodgertown:
As the 2006 Grapefruit League schedule winds down, the Dodgers have yet to draw more than the 4,856 who showed up to watch them play a ghastly New York Mets split squad on March 5. Dodgertown, a sacred cow of the baseball-as-poetry crowd, would seem to have everything going for it: an intimacy between players and fans unmatched in any other facility, a rich history dating to 1948 and a pastoral, smalltown beauty that is tough to match anywhere else in Florida - much less in the barren Arizona desert some 2,500 miles away.

"It wasn't until I played here, and got a chance to walk the streets, that I really appreciated it," said former pitcher Jerry Reuss, who spent eight of his 22 major-league seasons with the Dodgers. "It's one thing to come over in a bus (as a visiting player), focusing on the fact I was going to pitch that day. But once I started coming here (as a Dodger) and saw the people who come here, the former players, it became a link to my childhood. I had watched the Dodgers play in the World Series on TV in the years when I first fell in love with baseball. Then I would hear all the stories, and the more I heard, the more special this place became." And yet, by 2006 standards, it is lacking in so many ways.

It is short on modern amenities, short on creature comforts and woefully short on proximity to the fan base back home. All of which would seem to suggest the Dodgers would be much more comfortable in Arizona's Cactus League, now the spring-training home to a dozen of the 30 major-league teams. The metropolitan Phoenix area, where nine of those teams can be found, is a six-hour drive from greater Los Angeles and about a 45-minute flight.


...[W]hat the Dodgers don't get, by and large, are fans from Los Angeles. No other team in baseball travels as far for spring training as the Dodgers, and no other team west of the Houston Astros still trains in Florida.

And yet, I love how he goes from "short on creature comforts" to this:
As with all leases, there are provisions under which the Dodgers could buy their way out of Dodgertown. At the very least, the club would have to pay off the remainder of two local bond issues originally totaling $17.6 million, the cost of which becomes increasingly less expensive the more time passes. But the facility is so vast (about 60 acres) and sufficiently modernized that if the Dodgers leave, another club presently dissatisfied with its own spring-training arrangement likely would jump at the chance to move in.
Well, which is it, Tony? Sufficiently modern or not modern enough? I agree that the Florida spring training experience -- while I haven't been -- is far too geographically distant from LA, not to mention the teams too distant from each other to be comfortable. If the Dodgers did move to Arizona, it would be mighty cool, but at the same time, I can understand them not doing so for historical reasons. Those reasons might no longer make sense, especially if it means adding another way of connecting to the fan base.

Update: Thanks for the link, David Pinto.

In order to mitigate the historical aspect a bit, maybe the Dodgers could take over the old Cubs facility on Catalina Island. ;)
How about Nevada? Thirty miles west of Las Vegas there is all the room in the world they could want to build a facility. Close to Las Vegas, close to LA, close enough to other Cactus League teams. Available cheaply now but in a vast growing area that Las Vegas is growing into, with financial growth potential. Check out Pahrump and Sandy Valley, Nevada.
Rumor has it that the other dissatisfied team is the White Sox.

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