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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Today in Baseball History: Dodgers commit to Dodgertown

On this day in 1951, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed a 21-year lease with the city of Vero Beach, Florida, for use of their spring training facilities there. The facility would become known as Dodgertown, the most storied spring training facility in baseball history.

Dodgertown owed its existence to Bud Holman, a Kentucky-born Cadillac dealer who had set up shop in tiny Vero Beach, Florida in 1925. In 1929 he and a few other local businessmen established the Vero Beach Airport. Within six years he would manage to convince Eastern Air Lines to make it into a fueling stop and to obtain direct air mail service for the community. At the time, Vero Beach would be the smallest U.S. city to have such service. By the time of World War II, the airport and Vero Beach would become a military community and naval housing would be established. The U.S. Naval Air Station, Vero Beach, Florida was commissioned on November 24, 1942 to provide a Navy and Marine flight training base. In 1946 the Navy gave the facility back to the city of Vero Beach, and Bud Holman and the city leaders needed to find something to do with that land.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Dodgers had been training in a number of places. In 1947 they actually trained in Havana, Cuba, partially because they got a great offer to do so, partially so Rickey could keep the fact that he had invited Jackie Robinson to big league camp as far from the public eye as possible. He was not quite ready to let that news break wide. It’d break wide pretty soon, of course, and as the 1947 season wore on, Rickey and the Dodgers had to figure out where they’d go for the following year’s spring training. They had a decent offer on the table from some interests in the Dominican Republic, but nothing was set in stone. Rickey preferred to come back to the United States the following February, and he wanted a big, self-contained place. The Dodgers had over two dozen minor league teams at the time, and Rickey wanted everyone to train in one location if possible.

Holman heard of the Dodgers’ interest in a big U.S. location and put himself and Vero Beach on Rickey’s radar. Rickey sent an underling — future Dodgers GM Buzzie Bavasi — to Florida to scout Vero Beach and some other places. He’d never make it to the other places thanks to Holman’s sales pitch and, more importantly, the fact that they had a self-contained facility with housing, mess halls, and a private airstrip. It was everything the Dodgers wanted. All they had to do was build the actual baseball diamonds. In December of 1947 the Dodgers and the City of Vero Beach reach a five-year lease agreement for the former U.S Naval Air Station and renamed the property “Dodger Town.” It’d be shortened to one word over time.

The story of a spring-training facility.

 

QLE Posted: March 24, 2020 at 12:41 AM | 0 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: dodgers, dodgertown, history, spring training

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