Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax with two young fans in the early '60s.
Sixty years ago, Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley and general manager Branch Rickey created a spring training home for their team in tropical Vero Beach, population 15,000. They chose an abandoned 450-acre World War II naval base for what would become known as "Dodgertown." The drab gray military barracks with no heat (players wrapped themselves in towels and rugs to keep warm) housed 750 players. A private runway was built to accommodate the team-owned DC3.
For his players, O'Malley designed two golf courses surrounding the seven-field complex and legend has it whenever his ball landed behind a tree, he would tie a yellow ribbon around the tree and the next day the tree would be gone. One Valentine's Day, he surprised his wife Deary by building a heart-shaped lake by the stadium.
There are still no roofs on the dugouts today, giving an intimate feel. Street lights on the premises are illuminated baseballs. Tennis courts and an Olympic size pool add class.
Even if you're not a Dodger fan, you can come stroll down Jackie Robinson Drive, Pee Wee Reese Blvd., Roy Campanella Ave. or Sandy Koufax Lane. Feel the tradition and the mystique. Every blade of grass could tell a story! It's a throwback to a more innocent time (Golden Age) before free agency and outrageous salaries. Some say the air feels fresher, colors seem brighter and the smell of the citrus groves overpower you in "baseball heaven." Jackie found comfort there.
As you approach the sacred grounds, roll down the car window and listen closely--you might still hear the "Boys of Summer" voices and laughter. Dodger Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully once said, "It's not just a spring sight--it's more like a museum."
Nothing is forever, everything comes to an end! In March, the team will sadly spend the first two weeks in Dodgertown, followed by a week of exhibition games in China and the final week in Glendale, Ariz., their new spring training home. The city is building them a $30 million, 15,000-seat stadium (twice the size of nostalgic Holman Stadium in Vero). There they will be closer to their L.A. fan base and, of course, more money for player salaries. We'll miss 'em!