Twelve years ago today, the Dodgers played their last spring training game at Holman Stadium in Vero Beach, ending a 61-year run at historic Dodgertown.
The game, a 12-10 loss to the Astros, was played with a lot going on in Dodgers camp. They would play one more game in Florida, a road contest in Jupiter the next day against the Marlins, before finishing up with a vagabond week in Arizona. Their new facility, Camelback Ranch in Phoenix, would open in 2009.
The St. Patrick’s Day affair was also a split-squad game, because half the team was playing exhibition games against the Padres in China. While Joe Torre managed in Beijing, that left Tommy Lasorda, for one last game in Vero Beach, to sit at the helm in his No. 2 jersey for the Dodgers.
Despite the contingent in China, the Dodgers that stayed behind had some regulars, including Juan Pierre, Rafael Furcal, and Andre Ethier in the top three lineup spots, and Chad Billingsley on the mound in his first full season as a starting pitcher.
Ethier was 4-for-5 with three RBI, missing a cycle by a double, and Furcal was 3-for-6 with a home run, a triple and three runs scored.
The Dodgers moved their spring training to a former World War II naval air station in Vero Beach in 1948, almost at the start of the Boys of Summer run that saw the team win six pennants in 10 years, including the club’s first World Series win. The team was invited to the city by local businessman Bud Holman, for whom the stadium was named five years later.
What made Dodgertown great was the sense of history. Maybe the close quarters fed into this, with players living on site, but also that franchise legends would always be around to work with current players.
“You could talk shop with any one of those guys,” reliever Rudy Seañez told Kevin Baxter of the LA Times in 2008. “The people walking through here, it was pretty cool. It’ll be one of the things that you always remember.”
From a logistical standpoint, it made perfect sense for the Dodgers move their spring home to Arizona, even if it was a tough emotional break. It’s much closer for not only the team, but the fans from in and around Los Angeles, to travel to Phoenix than to head to Florida. I only went to Vero Beach once, on my 30th birthday in 2006, thanks to a work conference in Miami later that week. My time in Dodgertown was very brief, coming directly from redeye flight to the stadium. But even in that short time I could feel the history oozing from the place, and there was some magic in seeing Holman Stadium, and the outfield berm with my own eyes after all those years only seeing on television.
Here are some facts from that last Dodgers game at Holman Stadium from March 17, 2008:
- Last home run: Nick Gorneault, Astros (9th inning, off Greg Jones)
- Last hit: Gorneault’s HR
Last home run (and hit), Dodgers: Andre Ethier (8th inning, off Chad Paronto)
*note: Preston Mattingly also homered off Paronto, three batters earlier
- Last baserunner: James Tomlin (9th inning walk to load the bases with two outs)
- Last batter: Rafael Furcal, groundout to second base
- Winning pitcher: Geoff Geary, 2 IP, 1 strikeout
- Losing pitcher: Joe Beimel, ⅔ IP, 3 hits, 3 runs
- Save: Carlos Hines, 1 IP, 1 walk, 1 strikeout