Savoring Dodgertown

By John Feinstein
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, March 3, 2008; 5:25 PM

VERO BEACH, FL.

There is a sign on the outfield fence of Holman Stadium this spring that says simply, "Thanks for 60 Memorable Years."

Translation: "So long Dodger fans."

When you picture spring training at its idyllic best, Dodgertown is what comes to mind first. It is a throwback, the first true spring training "camp," built for the Dodgers in 1948 when Branch Rickey wanted to bring all his players -- major leaguers and minor leaguers -- to the same place for spring training. According to legend, there were 600 players from 26 different teams here that first spring.

Sixty years later, the place has changed, but not all that much. The Dodgers have updated their facilities and they did finally put an outfield fence in the stadium about 10 years ago, but the look and feel of the place has changed very little.

Fans can wander across the bridge on Vin Scully Way to the back fields to watch batting practice or get autographs from players making their way to and from the various practice fields. They can get their picture taken at the corner where Don Drysdale Drive meets Don Sutton Square and then they can scramble over to Campy's Bullpen to get Tommy Lasorda -- still in uniform every day -- to sign an autograph or pose for a picture.

"It's just a neat place in every way," said Joe Torre, who makes his way around the place in a golf cart prior to a game, also posing for pictures and signing autographs as he goes.

The sight of Torre in a Dodger uniform is still jarring at this point. "There are still times when I think of 'us,' and the Yankees come to mind," he admitted on Sunday before his team faced the New York Mets. "Fortunately I haven't done it in public, just with friends or alone. The last 12 years changed my career forever. I'd be silly to say otherwise."

Torre has already answered hundreds of questions about his departure last fall from the Yankees and his arrival in Los Angeles. Hank Steinbrenner, son of George, has gone out of his way to take shots at Torre but there is no way Torre is going to be drawn into any kind of verbal exchange with The Boss-wannabe.

"Last year was tough," he said. "I was on the last year of my contract, we got off to a bad start and it just wasn't a lot of fun. The games were fun. That was the good part. The rest of it wasn't very much fun. I wondered at times if I would have the desire to come back and do this again but I still have it. That's why I'm glad I'm here."

Torre is the eighth man to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers. But there were Dodger managers who worked here before Walter O'Malley even thought about moving the Dodgers west, among them: Leo Durocher. This is the place where Jackie Robinson reported for his second spring training after breaking baseball's color line; it is the place where Sandy Koufax went to the back fields in search of control; the place where Pee Wee Reese became the Dodger captain; the place where Mike Piazza showed up as an unknown rookie few ever expected to see in a big-league uniform.

Everywhere you look there are streets or buildings or meeting rooms named for all the famous Dodgers who came here to train. There are meeting rooms in the Brooklyn wing of the building where many of the Dodger offices are housed and others in the Los Angeles wing. Through the years the Dodgers have updated their facilities but Dodgertown itself is largely unchanged.


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