World-famous Historic Dodgertown – Vero Beach has been designated as a “Florida Heritage Landmark” and, to make it official, a Florida Historical Marker will be unveiled in ceremonies on Monday, November 10, it was announced today by Peter O’Malley, Historic Dodgertown chairman.
Participating in the ceremonies at noon are Hall of Fame Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda, as well as O’Malley and other Dodger legends, who are serving as instructors at the 53rd Los Angeles Dodgers Adult Baseball Camp from November 9-15 at Historic Dodgertown. Instructors include Ron Cey, Tommy Davis, Steve Garvey, Mickey Hatcher, Ken Landreaux, Rick Monday, Chan Ho Park, Jerry Reuss, Maury Wills and Steve Yeager. Lasorda and former National League umpire Bruce Froemming will be guest instructors. Former Dodger scout Guy Wellman serves as the camp coordinator as he has since the first camp in 1983.
The marker celebrates “Baseball and Dodgertown,” which have been inextricably intertwined since 1948, when the Dodgers first made Dodgertown their base for Spring Training activities. As the first Spring Training site in the South to become completely integrated that year, Dodgertown has unique historic significance throughout Major League Baseball and the country. All the Dodgers were housed and dined together at Dodgertown in a period when segregation was prevalent.
As the 30” high by 42” wide marker is unveiled, Vero Beach will celebrate a significant era. The two-sided marker will be located on the well-traveled path leading to Historic Dodgertown’s all-purpose conference center and dining room. The Indian River County Historical Society sponsored the marker application, with support from the Tourist Development Council of Indian River County and the Florida Department of State, recognizing the broad importance of Dodgertown to the Treasure Coast community, extending far beyond baseball.
This marker is only the 14th located throughout Indian River County designating historic sites as a “Florida Heritage Landmark.”
Sportswriters regularly used the dateline “Vero Beach, Florida,” which brought familiarity to the city on an international scale and eventually snowbirds and tourists flocked to it. Dodgertown was the Spring Training home of the Dodgers from 1948-2008. Twenty-six Dodger players, coaches, managers, executives and broadcasters who experienced Dodgertown are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
O’Malley stepped in to prevent Dodgertown from being shuttered in 2012 and, with the support of the Los Angeles Dodgers, renamed it “Historic Dodgertown.” He said: “This recognition is appropriate because of Historic Dodgertown’s significance in baseball history. It truly is unique and we appreciate the efforts of all those involved to gain this special designation.”
Ruth Stanbridge, Indian River County Historian and former County Commissioner, said: “For years as the County Historian, I had wanted to write the perfect historic marker for Dodgertown. It was to reflect on how our WWII training fields had been turned into a ‘field of dreams’ for decades of young men of all races who only wanted to play baseball. Circumstances intervened and only after the purchase of Dodgertown by the County Commissioners – and at that time I was fortunate to be one – did that happen.
“This historical marker not only reflects the dreams of all those young people from the past, but a dedicated community with partners who wanted those dreams carried into the future. For many years, one of the most successful county-wide projects of the Indian River County Historical Society has been its Historic Marker Program. I have researched and written many of the historic text that appears on these markers, but the one that is extra special to me and just completed is ‘Baseball and Dodgertown’.”
In 1947, prominent Vero Beach community leader Bud Holman first suggested to the Dodger organization that they consider using the former U.S. Naval Air Station for Spring Training activities. Dodger President Branch Rickey liked the idea, since he wanted to create a “baseball school” to educate players about the fundamentals of the game in a campus-like environment. The Dodgers agreed to a lease for 1948 Spring Training and their 26 minor league teams.
After the major league Dodgers had trained in the Dominican Republic in 1948, they played their first exhibition game at Dodgertown on March 31. In that game, pioneer Jackie Robinson led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run. The Sporting News on April 7, 1948 was first to write “Dodgertown” as one word in a headline, as it initially appeared as “Dodger Town” in the local press.
When Walter O’Malley was named Dodger president in October 1950, he began to modernize and invest in Dodgertown. In 1953, O’Malley signed a 21-year lease with the City of Vero Beach to keep the Dodgers at Dodgertown. That year was also when O’Malley privately built and dedicated Holman Stadium, in honor of Bud Holman. The plaque for the stadium read at the ceremonies by O’Malley: “The Brooklyn Dodgers Dedicate Holman Stadium to Honor Bud L. Holman of the Friendly City of Vero Beach, Walter F. O’Malley, President, Emil H. Praeger, C.E., Designer, 1953.”
Later, O’Malley built two golf courses open to the public in Vero Beach – Dodgertown Golf Club (1965, nine holes) and Dodger Pines Country Club (1971, 18 holes). His primary purpose was so African-American Dodgerplayers had the opportunity to participate, because other local courses were private and segregated. Dodgertown Golf Club was the first integrated course in Vero Beach.
The O’Malley family continued to develop internationally recognized Dodgertown, adding modern villas, clubhouses and playing fields. Walter and Peter invited professional and collegiate international baseball teams to train and hosted numerous coaching and front office exchanges at Dodgertown. In 1974, the NFL New Orleans Saints used Dodgertown for training camp and not only did they return for many more years, but additional professional and college football teams have trained at Dodgertown through the years.
History is everywhere as memorabilia adorns Dodgertown throughout. It is a unique experience for guests who participate on the same fields that Dodger legends trod. The newly-designed Jackie Robinson Room and dining room in the conference center are examples of that. Championship teams were built at Dodgertown with sixDodger World Series winners and 14 National League Pennant-winning clubs. Those teams prepared for the upcoming season in Vero Beach.
Historic Dodgertown celebrates its tradition, but today is a premier year-round, multi-sport training site and conference center. Professional and amateur teams from throughout the world – including Canada, China, Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Japan, South Africa and South Korea – have trained at Historic Dodgertown, taking advantage of its 10 ½ perfectly-manicured fields, many amenities and impeccable service.