On the Road: Visiting an Historic Destination in Vero Beach

To see all of my posts from this visit to Historic Dodgertown (this is Part One) 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.

The fifth stop on this, my first Minor League ballpark road trip of the season, was Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach. Historic Dodgertown, which opened in 1948 without the “Historic” designation, is a former naval barracks converted by Branch Rickey into the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Spring Training home. Its creation was largely motivated by the desire to provide the team with a racially integrated training site.

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The sprawling grounds of Dodgertown — words which should be a refrain in a Bruce Springsteen song — include Holman Stadium.

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This facility hasn’t hosted a Minor League Baseball team since 2008 (RIP Vero Beach Devil Rays), but it comes alive each April 15 for the annual Jackie Robinson Celebration Game. The 2015 iteration of this game was to feature the Brevard County Manatees and St. Lucie Mets. This is what I was in Vero Beach to witness.

I arrived at Dodgertown early to attend a luncheon featuring the players of both teams as well as assorted dignitaries and hangers-on (read: me). I’m not sure if these are Manatees or Mets, but I happened to arrive at the same time their bus did.

IMG_0951The luncheon itself was uneventful. Just a bunch of men in a room, eating lunch. We’ve all been there, right? Outside of food consumption, the only event to take place was Brady Ballard (far right) giving a brief speech welcoming everyone to Historic Dodgertown.

IMG_0953Ballard, who had previously worked as the general manager of the Daytona Cubs, has been instrumental in establishing the  Jackie Robinson Celebration Game.

“There’s a lot of history here,” Ballard told me after the luncheon. “When it’s empty around here you can feel the ghosts.”

Speaking of history, this plaque sums it up nicely.

003 And maybe these are the ghosts?

002The above mural depicts Dodgertown in its early days, when hordes of current (and aspiring) Brooklynites descended upon Vero Beach. The entire organization gathered here, resulting in quite the depth chart.

009These days, however, Historic Dodgertown is a multi-sport training and tournament destination. Here’s (a photo of) a photo showing the lay of the land of this 80-acre complex. 89 hotel rooms are on site as well, meaning that many of the athletes that train here also sleep here.

010On April 15, the day I was in town, Historic Dodgertown was hosting training camp for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. (Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson is on the roster, though I failed to spot him on the premises.) This football field was 110 yards long, as befits the standards of the CFL.

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Other events on the 2015 calendar include an umpire school, soccer camp and a lacrosse goalie instructional clinic. There’s something for everyone!

Ballard has a pretty nice view from his office. This is Holman Stadium in all its glory.

IMG_0957Another perspective:

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I was left with some time to wander before that night’s game began, so wander I did.

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025Said bout of wandering eventually propelled me into Holman Stadium, before the gates had opened.

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And that’s where we’ll leave off. Part two of this Historic Dodgertown account will cover the second annual Jackie Robinson Celebration Game, in which the St. Lucie Mets faced off against the Brevard County Manatees. Stay tuned.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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