Dodgertown

Historic Dodgertown (Vero Beach, Florida), where the L.A. Dodgers trained until 2008. By the time I found this place, the Dodgers had already moved to Camelback Ranch (Glendale, Arizona). They share the facilities with the Chicago White Sox. Dodgertown captures that old-time spring training feel. Players would enter the field by literally walking stadium stands the same way the fans did. There is no tunnel, hallway, gate, or magic door. Something else unique about this park is that the dugout is caged in.

Originally known as Holman Stadium, it was built in 1953 from an abandoned Navy housing base area. Vero Beach was a military community that grew quickly during World War II. The timing could not have been better as Branch Ricky’s farm system concept would catch on with other teams and what we now know as the Minor Leagues. Brooklyn Dodgers players, coaches, and staff would eventually land here in Dodgertown as new tenants in the late 1940’s.

On the day that I visited Dodgertown, there was not a soul in sight; no sign of any gate being kept, not even a parking attendant. Surreal; I kept asking myself if this was the place. I made my way through the park and sat down on the first base side. I stared at the field and wonder what it was like to see those Dodger Legends walk around. As I held that thought, players started to walk through the stands and down to the field to practice. It was as if I was not there. I never found out where they came from. Like I said, there was not a soul in sight; a field of dreams moment.

They were the SK Wyverns a professional baseball team training for the 2012 Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), hence the flags of South Korea and the U.S. beyond centerfield. They trained here in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and came back in 2019; another partnership between SK Wyverns and the Dodgertown Family with the same commitment of sportsmanship.

Last year, MLB announced that it would rename Dodgertown as “Jackie Robinson Training Complex.” They recently assumed operational control with plans for a “year-round hub of amateur development initiatives and events” and “a yearlong schedule honoring Jackie’s legacy.”

Remembering Tinker Field

At the site of the Old Tinker Field, you will only find a plaza. Tinker Field was demolished in 2015 to give way for the Old Citrus Bowl expansion next door. Citrus Bowl is now called Camping World Stadium, also used as a concert venue. Expanding the walking plaza around the stadium into rightfield made the ballpark unplayable. This, despite opposition from people trying to save the park and Tinker Field having National Historic Landmark Protections. In Central Florida, history becomes a casualty to tourism. Expansion was part of Orlando Mayor Dyer’s plan of attracting business to the downtown area, a trifecta that also includes the New Amway Arena and the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center.

City of Orlando opened the plaza in 2018 to commemorate the history here. At the least, there’s something to recognize the 101 year history. Orlando Rays of the Southern League were the last tenants, playing here until 1999, then played in Kissimmee for a short time and eventually became the Montgomery Biscuits in Alabama. Since then, the Florida State League Advanced-A (FSL) and Florida Collegiate Summer League (FCSL) also called it home over the years. They kept Tinker Field relevant. In 2012, the Orlando team in the FCSL was renamed the Monarchs, to commemorate the legendary team from Kansas City, the longest running franchise of the Negro Leagues.

Hall of Famer Joe Tinker played on the 1908 World Champion Chicago Cubs. In 1920, he moved to Orlando and eventually retired there and became an Owner and Manager in the Florida State League. He helped promote Baseball in Central Florida and would lead the way for little league and school programs. He eventually went into Real Estate. But, because of his role in growing the popularity of the game in Central Florida, the park was named in his honor.

Tinker Field hosted MLB Spring Training for 48 years;

  • Cincinnati Reds (1923-1933)
  • Brooklyn Dodgers (1934-1935)
  • Washington Senators (1936-1960)
  • Minnesota Twins (1961)

Here is a shortlist of Legends who played here;

  • Babe Ruth
  • Mickey Mantle
  • Willie Mays
  • Cal Ripken Jr.
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Carlton Fisk
  • Johnny Bench
  • Roy Campanella
  • Sandy Koufax
  • Jim Palmer
  • Bob Feller
  • Hank Aaron
  • Reggie Jackson
  • Lou Brock
  • Ted Williams
  • Willie Stargell
  • Tony Perez
  • Stan Musial

In 1964, Martin Luther King (MLK) stopped here, during the Civil Rights Movement, and spoke from the mound to thousands sitting in the grandstands. It was ironic that Blacks were sitting in the grandstands for the first time, as they were not allowed to sit there during games. MLK told those early pioneers in Baseball, like Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron, that their work made it easy for him to carry out his mission. NBA Legend Michael Jordan also played here in his short time with the Birmingham Barons (1994-1995). Not only are there too many memories to count, Tinker Field represents a large contribution to the game of Baseball.

Jackie Robinson Day

On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier, and paving the way for all those who came after him in the MLB modern era. Jackie Robinson Day is a time to remember that afternoon in Brooklyn when Jackie Robinson took the field. On Jackie Robinson Day, every MLB player wears the No. 42. If you wonder who is playing where without names on the back of there uniforms, that is the point. On that day, everyone is Jackie Robinson. Eventually that year, Jackie Robinson also became the first “Rookie of the Year,” in the awards’ inaugural year. The path he took to his MLB career started in Sanford, Florida, 40 miles from Daytona Beach. Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers Club President, had an innovative concept of “farm system development” when he ran the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930’s. Eventually, every other team adopted the idea. His long term relationships with officials in Daytona Beach also helped provide Spring Training facilities for the Brooklyn Dodgers, as well as Montreal Dodgers.

When you sit in those old grand stands, behind home plate of Historic City Island Ballpark (now named Jackie Robinson Ballpark), you are almost transported back to that time in 1946. That small memory is an important part the social fabric of baseball in America. This ballpark is one of an estimate 42 ballparks at risk of elimination in MLB’s recent Minor League reduction Proposal. MLB agreement with MILB is still pending.

Visiting Daytona to see a game at Jackie Robinson Ballpark has been a fun part of summers in Florida. The historical landmark & the exhibit of his life, located right at the entrance, reminds you of the history here. Before 2014, it was the home of the Daytona Cubs. On a “Belly Buster Mondays” promotion (all you can eat Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, popcorn and Papa John’s Pizza for $11) Daytona Cubs lose 8-4 to the Jupiter Hammer Heads. Just days before, the Daytona Cubs lost 2011 1st round draft pick Javier Baez, from Puerto Rico, and Jorge Soler, another top prospect from Cuba, as they were both reassigned to the Double-A affiliate. The team still went on to win the Florida State Championship. Since 2000, Daytona Cubs won it all six times, more then any other current team in the league. This was a vital part of the Chicago Chicago Cubs rebuild that led to the 2016 World Championship Season. Whether players get called to play in the Majors or not, it is great to be young, to live by the beach, and to get to play a game you love. The Chicago Cubs now have the Myrtle Beach Pelicans Advanced-A affiliate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

As of 2014, this is now home to the Daytona Tortugas, a Cincinnati Reds Advanced-A affiliate. Last Wednesday, Tortugas and their Tortugas Care Foundation announced plans to revive Kelly Field, in the Midtown neighborhood, where Jackie Robinson first trained with his Montreal Dodger teammates. The idea was to have an on site groundbreaking ceremony. nonetheless, they will move forward with a ballfield on the grounds. Tortugas will also create permanent displays to honor the field’s history and the World Series Champions from Daytona Beach. They want to also reach out to the community with sports equipment and programming. More importantly, it will be a place that brings people together. The tradition continues.

Opening Day Amid COVID-19

Yesterday was Opening Day. It was a beautiful day for a ball game. But, “there was no joy in Mudville.” For anyone who looks forward to Opening Day every year, this has to be a surreal feeling of suspense deferred. Although we’ve been without Baseball for a couple of weeks now. On Wednesday March 11, “USA Today” reported The World Health Organization declared that the spread of COVID-19 has become a pandemic after the disease was first detected in China during December and quickly spread to more than 100 locations around the world.

Within 48 hours, virtually every major sports event, concert, and every other mass gathering in the U.S. started to announce postponements. As MLB made its news the following afternoon, there were three 1:05 PM games underway. Adding to the suspended animation were announcers that didn’t really acknowledge suspended regular season and there were players doing elbow bumps in the dugout, instead of hand shakes and high fives.

Vin Scully was the voice of the Dodgers for 67 YEARS (1949-2016), starting very young in Brooklyn and outlasting so many others in Los Angeles. He came back with a message with “LA Times” on You Tube. After hearing his perspective on what we’re all living today, you can’t help walking away with a sense of hope. In the mean time, the game of life is playing itself out on the bigger stage. Something as minuet as a virus has taken hold of every aspect of our daily lives.

We’re sorting through this new day that has us rethinking what essential is, discovering what vulnerable means. Its ironic that we watch athletes and artists perform and at the highest level in a test of the human spirit. Now, the spectator is tested in social distancing as an act of saving others, a more significant test of the human spirit.

No one really knows when Baseball resumes. The COVID-19 will tell us. Of course, the quarantine leaves a lot of room for speculation. ESPN’s Jeff Passan first reported yesterday of an agreement with some guidelines for the 2020 Season. Players would be given credit for a full season. The length of the season will entirely depend upon recommendations from the both sides. They hope to play a minimum of 100 games. Weekly doubleheaders, regular-season games in October and neutral-site World Series games in November, COVID-19 permitting.