I only had the pleasure of making one trip to Vero Beach; in 2006, I spend my 30th birthday at the park one day before a conference for work in Miami. My one regret was that I didn't fully explore the entire Dodgertown complex. This time I vowed to make my first trip to the Dodgers' new spring training facility more memorable. I saw just about every nook and cranny of Camelback Ranch, and it was a great trip.
I left Southern California at about 1:30am Friday morning, just to make sure I got there early enough to see everything. I was actually in town by 7:30am, so I had time to eat breakfast before heading over to the facility, which opened at 9am.
Tip #1: Arrive at 9am to maximize your experience
You only need to pay $5 to park, and you can wander the facilities all day for no additional charge. Tickets are needed for the major league game, but often there are at least two minor league games going on each day that you can see for free.
There is a lake that separates the two halves of the complex -- one side contains the Dodgers' fields and offices and one side is for the White Sox. In this particular photo, notice the little slabs of concrete in between each tree; eventually, this is the likely spot (on the left side -- the Dodger side) for a "Walk of Fame" type placques honoring Dodger greats. Here's a shot of the map of the complex (click to enlarge):
Each club has a separate clubhouse, major league offices, minor league offices, four minor league fields, three major league fields, and batting cages. To get from the clubhouse to the practice fields, the players must traverse a walkway. The White Sox -- let's face it, they are analogous to the Clippers at Staples Center here -- chose to make this walkway a tunnel, to limit interaction with the fans:
The Dodgers, however, embraced the interaction with the fans that was so prevalent at Vero Beach, so when the Dodgers walk to practice they are up close and personal with the fans. Here are James McDonald and Cory Wade, along with another pitcher I forgot to denote (I think it was Brian Mazzone):
Tip #2: Don't Harass the Players for Autographs or Pictures
For the most part, the players won't stop for autographs while heading out to practice (usually around 10am or so), but they will on their way back to the clubhouse. So if you are patient you will likely be rewarded.
Here's a classic Branch Rickey invention, the strings, used to denote strikes and balls during warmups.
Here is Doug Mientkiewicz during workouts. I just wanted to see how awesome the name looked taking up all that space on his jersey.
After checking out practice Friday, I entered the stadium via the centerfield gate:
In case you were wondering what you could or couldn't bring into the stadium, here is the list of permitted items:
There are plenty of great site lines inside the stadium, whether you are in the berm seating in the outfield:
...or on the first base side:
...or behind home plate:
Tip #3: Bring Sunscreen
There is not a lot of shade, and the sun has a weird way of making you look like a lobster in no time. I applied sunscreen twice each day, and came out fine, except for a slight burn on my neck.
Here is a view of the scoreboard (which needs to add a lineup board, maybe even something as simple as a small strip with numbers and position, to make it easier to keep track in spring training):
Before Friday's game, ESPN's Peter Gammons was on the field talking with the Royals' coaches:
There are plenty of food options at Camelback Ranch, including hot dogs, sausages, pizza, nachos, mexican food, and barbecue sandwiches. Here is a shot at the hot dog concession stand on the third base side. I thought it was cool that each of the three separate hot dog stands are named for their location ("First Base Franks" on the opposite side of the stadium, and "Home Run Hot Dogs" at the centerfield entrance):
While Friday's game was cool, Saturday provided an experience I won't soon forget. Josh Rawitch, the Dodgers' Vice President of Communications, invited me and some other fellow Dodger bloggers -- DodgerDugout.com, and DodgerFan.net were also there -- on a tour of Camelback Ranch. I was also joined by BHSportsGuy and JJ24. We basically got to see just about everything. Here are some highlights:
We got to see the coaches room, where they had this impressive compilation of media guides from around MLB:
The Dodger clubhouse at Camelback Ranch is about five times larger than the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium:
We got to see "Maury's Pit":
We got to walk around the Dodger bullpen:
Throughout our tour, we got to meet several people:
- We talked with Charley Steiner for a good ten minutes, about many things including the World Baseball Classic
- We met Dodger great and newly appointed Special Advisor to the Chairman Don Newcombe
- Dodger Hall of Fame broadcaster Jaime Jarrin shared some insights with us
- We spoke with long-time traveling secretary Bill DeLury
- On our way out, Dodger President & COO Dennis Mannion asked our thoughts and opinions for a good ten minutes
However, by far the highlight of the tour was the hour-long Q&A session with Dodger GM Ned Colletti. While I can't divulge everything that was said during the hour, I can report that Colletti was refreshingly candid, passionate, and often brutally honest. He clearly likes this team, and with good reason.
I want to give a special thanks to Rawitch and the Dodgers for setting up this entire tour, and embracing the blogging world. It's clear they recognize the value of reaching as many fans as possible through all forms of media.
After the tour, it was on to our seats, but not before running into our friend Bluebleeder. Commenter extraordinaire BHSportsGuy was kind enough to buy two seats just outside of the Dodger dugout. It was a birthday present to be cherished for sure:
During this game, I was priveleged to meet long-time Dodger Thoughts commenter and ESPN's own Molly Knight, who later reported that Matt Kemp has embraced the Bison nickname so much that he drew winged bison on his shoes!
On Sunday, the relaxed atmosphere of spring was apparent:
I had a few simple goals for Sunday, and I reached them all:
1) Watch Chad Billingsley's simulated game:
2) Check out a minor league game. I was able to see former Dodger Michael Watt, who was traded last August to San Diego in the Greg Maddux trade:
I also saw Netherlands' World Baseball Classic catcher and Dodger prospect Kenley Jansen:
3) Watch phenom Josh Lindblom pitch (I had missed his previous appearances on TV):
I even ran into commenter ibleedbloo, as well as fellow SB Nation blogger Jim McLennan, who runs the excellent AZ Snakepit site.
After a long three days, I was ready to face the long drive home. As great as my trip was, and as cool as Camelback Ranch is, I was still happy to see this sign: