Friday, January 18, 2008

Will Dodgertown become Orioletown?

The Dodgers organization has built up quite the tradition in Vero Beach, FL, their spring training location for the past 60 years. Over those years it has affectionately been known as "Dodgertown". The Brooklyn Dodgers began using the facilities there in 1948. The team has since become the Los Angelos Dodgers, but kept having spring training in Vero Beach because of "tradition". It looks as though that "tradition" will be coming to an end. They've agreed to move their spring training site to Glendale, Arizona starting in 2009. It offers several advantages for them. I'm sure the facilities will be more up-to-date. Vero Beach is largely unchanged from its early days. The biggest advantage, though, is the proximity to Los Angelos. It's only about a 1 hour flight or a 5 hour drive. That is much more accessible for the fans and players alike. I would expect a much larger showing of Dodger faithful in Glendale than there have been in Vero Beach.

The timing of the move is particularly interesting for our Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles lease with their current facilities in Fort Lauderdale, FL runs out in 2009, and they have been having problems. The city and the Orioles have agreed that certain repairs need to be made, but they aren't the only two parties involved. The fields are adjacent to an executive airport and these plans for repair need to be approved by the Federal Aviation Authority, too, as they need to be looking out for their own future possibilities of expansion. The FAA has delayed these repairs for over a year now.

Another problem that the Orioles have with Fort Lauderdale is that the practice facilities are too small. They are forced to divide their major and minor league training camps (minor league camp is in Sarasota, FL). This handicaps the Orioles in how flexible they can be with their player development during spring training. Intrasquad scrimmages are much more difficult to pull off, and there is no way to slowly expose young players to big league camp. This problem would not exist in Vero Beach, which has plenty of space.

The Orioles have signed an option agreement with Indian River County (where Vero Beach is) in which they'll discuss taking over Dodgertown when the Dodgers leave. However, the Orioles say they are still committed to the city of Fort Lauderdale.

I think that if the FAA doesn't reach a conclusion regarding the planned repairs to the Orioles current facility soon (maybe before the end of this year's spring training), and if those repairs don't include expanding to an adequate size for both camps, then the Orioles need to start looking at Vero Beach much more seriously. It might not necessarily save the Orioles all the money they would have spent on repairs, as those facilities could use some updates as well; at least replacing the rec-league style benches with real dugouts. However, the advantages it offers for player development are more than worth it.

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