Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Thankfully, Tigers Won't Bid Lakeland Adieu In Near Future

This spring, the Los Angeles Dodgers are training in Vero Beach, Fla. Nothing new there; they've done so for some sixty years. And they'll do it again next year. Business as usual. But in 2009, the Dodgers will train in Glendale, Az. -- a move being made for a number of reasons.

That will leave Lakeland, Fla. as the dean of spring training sites. The Tigers started training there off and on in the 1930's before settling on it permanently in 1946.

The Dodgers cited being closer to their fan base, a sparkling new facility, and other factors in moving from Vero Beach to Glendale. But it won't, and shouldn't, happen without some moist eyes. Dodger Town in Vero Beach is hallowed ground. It's where Roy Campanella gave catching advice from a wheelchair, and where Sandy Koufax signed autographs after practice. And a zillion other memories.

The Tigers have memories, too, in Lakeland. It's where an 18-year-old kid named Al Kaline first put on the Old English D, never to play a day in the minor leagues. It's where manager Charlie Dressen had his annual chili parties, and where he suffered a heart attack the evening of the 1966 shindig. It's where Joe Coleman got beaned on the pitcher's mound, and where Billy Martin quit briefly as Tigers manager, complaining of meddling by GM Jim Campbell. It's also where Norm Cash used to make fans smile by wearing sunglasses with battery-operated windshield wipers on them. And on and on.

The Tigers, thankfully, have no plans to leave Lakeland high and dry, as the Dodgers will do to Vero Beach in two years. Some folks might not think where a baseball team trains in March is all that important or consequential. And, truthfully, it doesn't mean a hill of beans to a team's chances once the real games start in April. But the Dodgers' fleeing Dodger Town in Vero Beach should be marked with some sadness.

It's one more thing that breaks today's game away from the simpler times. And that can never be good, can it?


Blogger Ozz said...

I did think it was a little strange that a California team would come all the way to Florida for ST. I'm surprised this didn't happen decades ago.

I think the Indians are going to be leaving Winter Haven soon. I'm not sure how long they've been there, but I remember the Red Sox trained there for a long time.

Really, if not for ST, I wouldn't have heard of many of these smaller Florida towns, like Kissimmee for example.

Eventually I'll make it down to Lakeland to soak up the ST atmosphere!

11:17 AM  

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