Baseball's Dodgers Say So Long to Dodgertown For 61 years, Vero Beach, Fla., has been the spring home of baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the place where Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges and Sandy Koufax trained. But an era is ending as the team moves its spring training site to Arizona.
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Baseball's Dodgers Say So Long to Dodgertown

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Baseball's Dodgers Say So Long to Dodgertown

Baseball's Dodgers Say So Long to Dodgertown

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Now to Major League Baseball. And for Dodger fans, Vero Beach isn't just a place. It's an ideal - a symbol of hope, the Dodger's spring training location for 61 years. But that era is about to end, because tonight the Dodger's play their last game at Vero Beach, Florida before moving spring training to Arizona.

NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: It's hard to get to Dodgertown too early. Real fans start showing up shortly after the sun comes up. Five hours before game time you might find legendary Dodger Maury Wills giving bunting tips to centerfielder Juan Pierre.

A few steps away a gaggle of Dodger fans are watching. There are kids with gloves and fans who've been coming here for 20 years or more - people like Maryann Schein.

Ms. MARYANN SCHEIN (Dodgers Fan): My biggest memories here, my best favorites are anytime Sandy Koufax appears and watching Maury Wills teach bunting. It's never time to let go of history and nostalgia.

ALLEN: Like most of the fans here, Schein is heartsick. This is the last spring training at Dodgertown. After this year, the Dodgers will move spring training to a new $80 million complex in Glendale, Arizona.

It's a decision that makes business sense but which many fans feel is a blow to Dodger tradition. This is the place, after all, where Branch Rickey brought the team in 1948, taking over an old naval air station.

Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda remembers his first year here as a minor league pitcher - staying in an old military barracks where players slept six to a room. Lasorda's not happy about the move, but says owner Frank McCourt felt he had to do it for the Dodgers' California fans.

Mr. TOMMY LASORDA (Former Dodgers Manager): It's tough for a fan to come from L.A. to Vero Beach, but to go from L.A. to Phoenix, Arizona - four hours in a car - and we're going to have a lot of our fans come over there.

ALLEN: But what do you lose? What do you give up when you leave this place?

Mr. LASORDA: Tradition, development. You couldn't find a better place to develop players than here.

ALLEN: In its heyday, there might be 600 players here from the Dodgers' many farm clubs playing alongside the Major League team.

(Soundbite of ball being hit)

ALLEN: At Holman Stadium, Dodger players take batting practice on a field that's changed little from the days when Don Drysdale was on the mound and Duke Snider was patrolling center field.

Maury Wills recalls spending eight and a half seasons here as a minor league player and then three more with the big team before he was finally allowed to move into the Major League sleeping quarters.

Back then, because of segregation, Wills says it was difficult for black players to find a place in Vero Beach where they could get a haircut.

Mr. MAURY WILLS (Former Dodgers Player): I just got tired of what I had to go through. So I had my roommate, John Roseboro, just take a pair of electric shears and just skin my head, so that way I wouldn't have to worry about where I couldn't go to get a haircut. That year I stole 104 bases - so I had it shaved every year after that.

(Soundbite of ball being hit)

ALLEN: Today, Wills isn't happy to be leaving a town where he now has many friends, as he says, of all ethnicities.

Those friendships will be the part of Dodgertown that will be hardest to replace. It's not unusual to run into fans in Vero Beach who've keen spending their springs here for decades. But none beat 67-year-old Bob Scholl, better known here as Dodger Bob.

Mr. BOB SCHOLL (Dodgers Fan): I've been coming here since 1964, and I haven't missed a spring training game since.

ALLEN: He spent his honeymoon here, has gotten to know all of the players and staff. But even he concedes it's probably time the Dodgers left Florida for Arizona.

Mr. SCHOLL: It breaks my heart, but it certainly makes sense. It's closer, too, for bringing kids up to minor league affiliates. Everything are close. Plus all the teams in the Western Division are out there.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of vendors yelling)

ALLEN: Some diehard fans say they'll probably make the trip to Arizona next spring and show up wherever the Dodgers are training. But not Dodger Bob. When the team plays its last game at Holman Stadium, he says, after 44 years as Dodgertown's fan-in-chief, will be his cue to retire.

Greg Allen, NPR News.

(Soundbite of ball being hit)

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

INSKEEP: And you can find more history of the Dodgers and Dodgertown at

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