On the Road: Here’s to You, Mr. Robinson in Vero Beach

To see all of my posts from this visit to Historic Dodgertown (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

I visited eight ballparks on my April 2015 Florida road trip. Of these eight ballparks, 62-year-old Holman Stadium was the most memorable.

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Holman Stadium hasn’t hosted a Minor League team since 2008. The annual Jackie Robinson Celebration Game, first implemented in 2014 and on track to be a recurring event for years to come, represents the only chance to witness a professional baseball played at this facility. I wrote all about the Jackie Robinson game over on MiLB.com. A relevant excerpt follows, though I’d ask that you please read the whole thing if time and attention span allow.

Dodgertown, located in Vero Beach, Florida, served as the Dodgers’ Spring Training home from 1948 through 2008. The 80-acre facility, now officially known as “Historic Dodgertown” has since found a second life as a multi-sport training and tournament venue. But, once a year, Dodgertown returns to its professional baseball roots with the Florida State League’s Jackie Robinson Celebration Game.

The 2015 Jackie Robinson Celebration Game took place on Wednesday, April 15, a day on which Robinson’s legacy is celebrated throughout professional baseball. The game’s participants were the Brevard County Manatees and St. Lucie Mets — the Florida State League teams located nearest Vero Beach — and a near-capacity crowd of 5,915 was on hand at Dodgertown’s Holman Stadium to witness it. Holman Stadium, which last hosted a Minor League Baseball team in the form of the FSL’s Vero Beach Devil Rays in 2008, was built on the Dodgertown grounds in 1953. The first player to hit a home run in the stadium was none other than Jackie Robinson.

Jackie Robinson is truly a man worth celebrating…

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…and it was a beautiful day for a ballgame.

016This was my first time in Vero Beach, but I’ve been on this beat long enough that I occasionally used to cover the promotions staged by the Vero Beach Devil Rays (the last team to play at Holman Stadium and, also, the last team to use the “Devil Rays” name).

Here, for example, is a guy using a urine cup (distributed as part of an “Anti-Doping Night” promotion) to hold his beer.

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And here, mascot Squeeze forces the British to surrender during “Revolutionary War Night.

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There would be no such shenanigans on this evening, of course. The Jackie Robinson Celebration Game is a decidedly more straightforward affair.

I arrived before the gates opened, giving me the opportunity to photograph the seats before they were occupied. And what an opportunity it was.

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033But the emptiness did not last. As the fans streamed into the ballpark, the players assumed their places in the dugout.

IMG_0959Well, I’m not sure if you can call this a dugout. It’s more like a field pit.

IMG_0961In the above picture, please note the presence of St. Lucie superfans Gayle and Jack Fishbein. I wrote about the Fishbeins — and their candy distributing methods — in an MiLB.com story, and will feature them in my upcoming St. Lucie Mets blog post as well.

The St. Lucie Mets were the “home” team on this evening. Thus the presence of mascot Klutch.

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The game’s ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by “eight-year-old superhero Ethan Hendon,” soon scheduled to soon receive a heart transplant.

Vero Beach mayor Dick Winger, standing next to Florida State League president Ken Carson, read a proclamation declaring April 15 to be “Jackie Robinson Day.” He said “whereas” a lot.

040The players all lined up on the field for Opening Day-style introductions.

042And then — Bam! — a Florida State League game broke out.

043The place was packed. Nearly 6000 people turned out for the game.

046Berm Vine!

Nighttime panoramas!

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IMG_0968Most of my “material” from this evening ended up in the previously-linked to MiLB.com story, so I hope you are content with this relatively lightweight blog recap. I spent the last couple of innings sitting with presidential VIPs — Ken Carson of the FSL and Pat O’Conner of Minor League Baseball — as well as Minor League Baseball’s new manager of diversity and inclusion.

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That would be Vince Pierson. To find out more about who he is and what he’s doing, please read this article.

A game was going on this whole time. It’s funny how that works. The St. Lucie Mets, buoyed by a Michael Conforto grand slam (the second time I’d seen him hit a home run on this trip), cruised to victory.

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Fireworks ensued.

IMG_0974Vero Beach is not a place known for vehicular congestion, but on this night there most definitely was vehicular congestion. This resulted in some cogent commentary.

And that’s it for my reportage from Vero Beach. If you — yes, you — have a chance to attend the Jackie Robinson Celebration Game in the future, then I’d highly recommend it. It’s like taking a trip back in time.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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