Growing up in Vero Beach used to mean spending the crisp days of spring listening to the crack of a bat meeting a ball while watching the LA Dodgers gear up for the season. For many residents, the team which now practices in Arizona, is still dearly loved.
“If you were from Vero, you had to root for the Dodgers,” says Vero native Jacks Marshall. “Hanging out at Dodgertown, Holman Stadium, was a spring tradition.” The Dodgers had a 60 year history of practicing in the coastal Florida town.
“I remember watching the players when I was about 12 or 13. I had no idea who these guys were, but all of my friends and I thought they were about the coolest guys on earth. We all wanted to be them.”
Marshall, who is now an engineer, recalls the ease of his childhood days in Vero Beach and how much access he and other kids had to the major league sports teams.
“It was a different time, things were simple,” he pauses, “That’s making me sound old; let’s change that – it was a great time to grow up in Vero Beach.”
The 40-something professional has kids of his own now and wishes they could share in similar experiences. He has taken his sons to a couple of spring training games in South Florida, but explains that it’s not the same as when he had the freedom to spend weeks getting to know the Dodgers and watching them interact with opposing players and gather autographs from some of baseball’s greats.
“I couldn’t wait to see Tommy Lasorda every year,” states Marshall. “He was always nice and told jokes to the kids around the stadium.”
“The man [Lasorda] is a baseball treasure.”
Lasorda, 90, spent two decades coaching the LA Dodgers. Before he was manager, he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers for two seasons beginning in 1954. He grabbed two World Series’ titles in 1981 and 1988 during his coaching career.
“Oh man, ’88 was the best,” remembers Marshall. “The hometown team winning the Series – Vero was just bursting with pride.”
Marshall recalls Holman Stadium being far more crowded during the 1989 spring training after the Dodgers’ win. “I got Orel Hershiser’s autograph before they won the Series, so I didn’t have to wait in line.”
That was almost 30 years ago.
Last night, as the LA Dodgers polished off the Chicago Cubs to win the National League Conference Series, lifetime Dodger and Baseball Hall of Famer, Lasorda was there to salute the team as they ran into the dugout to celebrate their first time back in the series in almost 30 years.
Although the LA Dodgers moved their spring training to Camelback Ranch-Glendale in Phoenix, AZ in 2009, the team holds quite a dedicated following in Florida, especially Vero Beach.
When asked about which team he and his family will be cheering for in the World Series, Marshall lifts his head to the sky, “Are you kidding? This will always be a Dodger-loving town, and we will always be Dodgers fans. This is just like being a kid again!”
The LA Dodgers will take on either the Astros or the Yankees in the World Series beginning October 24 at Dodger Stadium.