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Holman Stadium / Dodgertown

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A look back at Holman Stadium and Dodgertown when they served as the spring-training home of the Brooklyn Dodgers/Los Angeles Dodgers. Year Opened: 1953
Capacity: 6,474
Architect: Designed by Norman Bel Geddes (famous theatrical designer and architect of the Futurama building at the 1964 New York World's Fair); engineered by Captain Emil Praeger
Dimensions: 340L, 300C, 340R
Playing Surface: Grass
Address/Directions: 4001 26th Street, Vero Beach. From I-95, take the Vero Beach exit and head east on Route 60 to 43rd Avenue; turn left and continue to 26th Street. Dodgertown is on your right.
Written by: Mark Cryan and Kevin Reichard

Note: This article was written over the course of several visits to Dodgertown for spring training. In 2008 the Dodgers spent one final spring in Florida before moving to a new Glendale, Arizona complex in 2009. Today the ballpark and complex are run by Minor League Baseball as Vero Beach Sports Village.

Much has been written about the Los Angeles Dodgers' impending move from the Grapefruit League to the Cactus League for the 2009 season, and attendance was up this last spring as fans flock to Vero Beach for one last look at the Dodgers in their longtime spring home.

The place was packed on a late-March Sunday when the Tribe was in town for an afternoon game under brilliant blue skies. The playing surface is dazzling, the setting relaxed and comfortable, and the staff friendly and welcoming. As a fan, I can’t remember a spring-training game that I enjoyed more. It’s hard not to feel warmly nostalgic when visiting a place that has faithfully served generations of young Dodgers and Dodger fans, and has become a part of the team’s history in a way that no other spring-training site ever has.

Much has been written about the Los Angeles' Dodgers impending move from the Grapefruit League to the Cactus League for the 2009 season, and attendance was up this last spring as fans flock to Vero Beach for one last look at the Dodgers in their longtime spring home. The place was packed on a late-March Sunday when the Tribe was in town for an afternoon game under brilliant blue skies. The playing surface is dazzling, the setting relaxed and comfortable, and the staff friendly and welcoming. As a fan, I can’t remember a spring-training game that I enjoyed more. It’s hard not to feel warmly nostalgic when visiting a place that has faithfully served generations of young Dodgers and Dodger fans, and has become a part of the team’s history in a way that no other spring-training site ever has.

Despite this incredible history, Holman Stadium is most remarkable for what it isn’t; there are no luxury boxes, no suites, no hot tubs, no party decks, no brew pub, and no cigar bar. It’s actually a bit of stretch to call it a stadium. Holman Park or Holman Field would seem more appropriate. This facility is comprised of a berm that completely surrounds the playing field. A concrete seating bowl is built into this bank. Running almost to the outfield corners, the box seat areas hold less than 20 rows of narrow chair-back seats. There is a concrete walkway at the top, and the berm wraps around the corners and encloses the outfield, with lawn seating allowed in the left and center field sections.

It’s also startling, in this day and age, to find a big-league spring-training facility with no roof. Not just no grandstand roof, but no dugout roofs! The sun was warm and pleasant on an 80 degree day in March, but this must be a truly unforgiving place to play by the time the Florida State League season heads into its third month. The modest press box building also provides the only shelter; a small covered concourse passes behind the press box with a concessions stand behind and a couple souvenir windows on the field side.

It’s puzzling that a roof over the concourse and the upper rows of seats has never been added. Drawing inspiration from the distinctive zig-zag roofline of the Dodger Stadium bleacher pavilions would have provided a visual tie-in to the big league ballpark and certainly made this a more functional facility both for spring training and the FSL season.

We watched the game quite comfortably from the top of the berm in the left field corner where a tree provided welcomed shade, and locals provided a very confident view of Dodgertown’s future. In a thoroughly unscientific poll, the Vero Beach faithful I spoke with felt that another team would undoubtedly move in to replace the Dodgers. But after seeing Holman Stadium in person, there’s no doubt that a completely new ballpark would need to be constructed to attract another big-league team. The Dodgers have already started shifting operations from Vero Beach: the Vero Beach Dodgers are no more, replaced by the Vero Beach Devil Rays (a Tampa Bay farm team), who probably will move to Charlotte County in 2009. (Editor's note: They did. And no big-league team moved in to replace the Dodgers.)

And this would not be a bad thing. While I’m a big fan of historic stadiums, particularly those that offer distinctive architecture and a true feeling of place, Holman Stadium, however charming, lacks any real architectural significance. This definitely is not Fenway Park.

But it is a place worth a visit, if for no other reason than to step back in time and see what spring training was like 50 years ago. See it now; despite the locals’ confidence, this is likely your last chance.

History
Dodgertown is the most storied spring-training site in the Grapefruit League and certainly the most historic. The Dodgers have been training for 55 years in Vero Beach, attracted to the area by Bud Holman, a local entrepreneur and director of Eastern Air Lines, who persuaded Buzzy Bavasi (then the farm director of the Brooklyn Dodgers) to consolidate spring training for the Dodgers and their 30+ farm teams. The city of Vero Beach wasn't sure this was a good idea -- as a matter of fact, the city refused to put in a swimming pool that Holman requested -- so technically the Dodgers contracted with Holman, who in turn leased the land from the city.

The first Dodgertown in 1948 wasn't at the same location as the current Dodgertown: it wasn't until 1952 that the current Dodgertown and Holman Stadium were developed by the city of Vero Beach. And 1948 wasn't a full spring-training for the Dodgers; about 600 players worked out in Vero Beach after beginning spring training in the Dominican Republic. The year 1949 saw the entire Dodger team spending the entirety of spring training in Dodgertown.

The Dodgers were so pleased with spring training in Dodgertown that by 1952 the team signed a 21-year lease with the city of Vero Beach for a true Dodgertown at a former Naval air base, the site of the present Dodgertown. As part of the lease, the Dodgers agreed that the entire major-league club and 50 percent of the Dodgers' farm teams would train in Vero Beach. The players were put up in former Naval barracks.

The Dodgers then furthered their commitment a few months later by investing $100,000 in a new stadium, named Holman Stadium; 1,500 steel chairs were brought from Ebbets Field in Brooklyn when the stadium was constructed. The Dodgers have been training in Dodgertown and playing in Holman ever since, although the Naval barracks were replayed by villas in 1972.

Holman Stadium has an impressive lineage: it was designed by Norman Bel Geddes (designer of the Futurama building at the 1964 New York World's Fair) and engineered by Captain Emil Praeger, who also engineered Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. It remained largely unchanged until 1984, when all the stadium seating was removed and replaced with 6,474 chair-back seats.

Architecturally, there's really not much to the stadium: the seating area is only 17 rows deep, and a small grandstand is used mainly as a press box. The Dodgers prided themselves on focusing on baseball and building a team in spring training; there are no ads in the outfield at Holman Stadium, there are no dugouts (only benches, so the players are always in plain sight, as you can see in the photo at the right), and there are relatively few concession stands for a stadium of this size. An outfield berm and a workout facility has been added in recent years, but on the whole Holman Stadium looks much like it did when the Dodgers moved there in 1954.

Where to Stay
There are no hotels within walking distance of Holman Stadium unless your idea of a walk is a two-mile hike. As such, you'll need a car to make your way around Vero Beach. Most of the good hotels in town are located at the Hwy. 60/I-95 interchange, including the Doubletree Guest Suites-Vero Beach, Holiday Inn Oceanside, Howard Johnson Express, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, and Comfort Inn.

Before/After the Game
Let's just begin by pointing out that Vero Beach is one of the smallest cities to host a professional-baseball franchise -- not quite as small as Zebulon, but with 17,350 residents, Vero Beach is not exactly a metropolis.

Now, having said that, there are a number of smaller attractions within the area. The Indian River Citrus Museum traces the history of the local citrus industry from its beginnings, from Spanish explorers through today's high-tech processing and marketing techniques. Included are historical photographs, old farm tools, tools, antique citrus labels, industry archives, and original harvesting equipment. The McKee Botanical Gardens is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it supports a dense and diverse botanical collection as well as several restored architectural treasures. And there's the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, which was the nation's first sea-turtle refuge.