A New Spring for Old Dodgertown

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VERO BEACH, Fla. — The Montreal Alouettes football players, dozens of them, jogged out of the Jackie Robinson meeting room to a practice field wearing shorts, cleats and Jackie Robinson T-shirts.

Half of them wore a replica of the Brooklyn Dodgers No. 42 shirt that Robinson once wore on these very grounds; the other half had the design he wore for the Class AAA Montreal Royals, with the city’s name written on the front, above the spot where the players cradled the football, and Robinson’s No. 9 on the back.

As the players for the Canadian Football League team shook off their off-season rust, tossing arcing spirals to receivers in the 20-yard end zone, fireworks exploded overhead. The pyrotechnics came from two fields away, where the Class A St. Lucie Mets played the Brevard County Manatees at Holman Stadium in the second annual Jackie Robinson Celebration Game, an event commemorating Robinson’s first major league game on April 15, 1947.

It was a busy but poignant evening at the quaint campus once affectionately known as Dodgertown, the spring training home of the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1948 to 2008.

Three years ago, the site was on the verge of becoming an industrial park or a wasteland. But because of the O’Malley family, which has not owned the Dodgers for more than 15 years, it is springing back to life.

Today it is known as Historic Dodgertown and hosts events like C.F.L. minicamps, high school soccer games and junior college softball championships. Its players use the fields and pathways once patrolled by men like Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella and Robinson.

“We like it because we have everything we need here,” said Jim Popp, the longtime vice president and general manager of the Alouettes. “But you can just feel the history.”

Popp stood near the rooms used by his team on its visit, the same rooms Dodgers players and coaches slept in decades ago. He watched as Coach Tom Higgins led his players through drills. Before the Alouettes’ first practice, on Wednesday, Popp provided each player with a one-page biography of Robinson, who played one season in Montreal, in 1946, before joining the Dodgers. It was the Alouettes’ second year at Historic Dodgertown, their first wearing the Robinson shirts.

“It’s just to give them some perspective on who came here before us and blazed the way,” he said.

When the Dodgers left Vero Beach in 2008, headed eventually to their new spring training site in Arizona, Dodgertown seemed doomed. Indian River County owned the grounds, but there was no high-profile tenant to move in. The old golf course that was long part of the complex was abandoned and overtaken by weeds, and the general infrastructure threatened to follow suit.

Minor league baseball stepped in and tried to make a go of it as a multisport complex, despite one snag: The Dodgers, under the ownership of Frank McCourt, refused to relinquish the name Dodgertown, having reserved the rights to it for the team’s minor league complexes around the country.

Read more: A New Spring for Old Dodgertown


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