Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Vero vs. Camelback Ranch - Have We Lost Something Special?

So I was working on this piece on Vero Beach with a St. Patrick’s Day angle and then I got to surfing the Dodger blog world and I noticed that Steve Dilbeck at the Times had pretty much written about what I had started.  He did an excellent job as always.  So rather than trash my post and start over.  I tweaked it a bit and went in a different direction with it.  This isn’t the first time I have run into this predicament.  Such is the world of a blog writer.

3/17/2008, Dodgers final St. Patrick's Day at Dodgertown, Vero Beach, FL

Here we are, St. Patrick’s Day, a joyous occasion during the O’Malley years at old Vero Beach, Florida.  But those days are over.  The green Dodger cap brings memories to me of an era that has come and gone.  When the Dodgers left Vero, I understood the arguments made by the McCourt ownership to move to Glendale, AZ.  Even Dodger treasures such as Tom Lasorda and Vin Scully said it was time to move.  But now I wonder.

Camelback Ranch game, March 2, 2001.  Where is everybody?
After viewing the stands at Camelback Ranch of televised pre-season games, I have a hard time believing the attendance figures.  Having been present at Vero Beach Spring Training at least five times in my lifetime, I can tell you that the place didn’t always fill up either, but Camelback Ranch looks like a ghost town these days.
Did the Dodgers throw away 50 years of an amazing legacy for nothing?  How could you not feel the tradition of Campy, Jackie, Pee Wee, Sandy, 3-Dog, Tommy Davis, Duke, Big D, the Garv, Penguin on those grounds?  That place was special, and they spruced it up in the last few years too. It was state of the art and had the old ballpark feel as well.  I get sick when I think of how the McCourt group left that little town empty handed and without a tenant after they had invested millions into upgrading the place.  Years and years of good relations were spoiled.  And to top it off, the McCourt ownership threatened to file suit against them if they continued to use the Dodgertown name.  That was just plain wrong.
 The Dodgers were the only game in town in Vero Beach and they were treated well.
Yes, Vero Beach had it’s drawbacks.  There wasn't much to do there.  Very few restaurants and hotels.  It was isolated from most other Florida Spring Training sites for the most part, (with Viera and Port St. Lucie being the closest other locations).  Probably the players felt that fans had too much access to the players, but that had changed a bit since the remodeling.

My son, (14 years old at the time), poses with Rick Monday at a walking trail in Vero Beach.  Such encounters were common at the old Dodger Florida home.

Meanwhile, Vero Beach sits void of a Major League team.  Most of the Brooklyn fans are slowly passing on to the big Dodger in the sky.  The Dodgers over the years had been slowly losing their fan base in the Florida home.  Games against the Mets and Red Sox at Vero would be filled with visiting fans, and the gift shop for the Red Sox game would be stocked with Red Sox hats and jerseys.
Now, granted, I haven’t been to Camelback Ranch yet, so I can't give an eye witness picture of the new Arizona home,  (I’m going next week, and will be there from March 21-25).  But CR is a shared facility and not uniquely a Dodger site.  At Vero, you could find a shady tree to sit under to seek refuge from the heat, (something that you don't have at CR).  But best of all, you could just wander from field to field and watch the players practice and interact with each other, just a few feet away.  Or you could meander over to Maury and watch his bunting drills.  And when players finished on the practice fields, there would always be several that would stop and sign for the fans.
Camelback Ranch, 2011

One thing that was promised of the fans was that the same access to players and practice fields would be available.  I hope that's the case.  The Dodgers, the only west coast team that continued to make their spring home in Florida, had communicated the need to bring spring training closer to their L.A. home.  I really don't see the crowds that I expected heading out to Glendale from L.A.

Here at the local baseball paraphernalia shop that I frequent in Giants country, I have been told that Giant Spring Training game attendance is at an all-time high popularity and that fans at his card shop have complained that they can't get near the Giant players.   I guess that's to be expected with them coming off the championship year.   I haven't heard that complaint from Dodger fans and based on the photos I am seeing on-line, it looks like you can get up close to the players.  I'll give my opinion on this next week.

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