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Dodgertown seen great for college ball
BY IAN M. LOVE - MANAGING EDITOR (Week of February 5, 2009)

While the boys of summer have moved to Arizona, Indian River County has held discussions that could bring as many as 125 college baseball teams from up north – along with the families of many of the players — to Vero Beach in March 2010.

County officials have discussed the possibility of Dodgertown hosting the teams with RussMatt Baseball, which bills itself as the largest operator of college baseball spring break tournaments in the United States.

“Typically a team comes for a week,” said director Dave Barnard. “Since colleges have varying spring break schedules, it adds up to be 100-plus teams, the vast majority of whom come during March and play for a week and then a new group moves in.”

Currently RussMatt is using facilities at Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven, the former spring training home of the Cleveland Indians. In addition, it has access to a new $8 million complex in Auburndale for its central Florida operation — which hosts about 200 teams.

Barnard said his organization has just a one-year lease in Winter Haven, and he is interested in forging a long-term relationship to shift some of those games to Dodgertown.

“Basically Dodgertown would have the teams that were going to Chain of Lakes,” he said. “We would move half those teams to Dodgertown and because of the sort of facility it is and the location, there is a good chance we could have more up to a maximum of 125 teams.

“On a hotel room night basis for the month we estimate it at 15,000-ish typically. At 15 games a day at the complex on a daily basis, that figures to around 1,000 people, and the economic impact would be in the millions of dollars,” he said.

Barnard said he hopes to meet with county commissioners in March when he travels to Florida for the 2009 tournament season.

“We think Dodgertown would be great,” he said. “Unlike other places, it has an onsite dorm and onsite cafeteria and the location with the proximity to the ocean (for the families which often travel with the teams) and proximity to the airports are huge plusses.”

County Commissioners became aware of RussMart after meeting with Pat O’- Conner, President of Minor League Baseball. O’Conner came to the attention of the county through Craig Callan, the Dodgers vice president of spring training and minor league facilities.

A spokesman for Minor League Baseball, contacted via e-mail, stressed the talks were informational to help commissioners consider their options for possible uses of the facility.

“Pat O’Conner met with Indian River County officials on January 23 at the request of County Administrator Joe Baird at which time baseball opportunities utilizing the Dodgertown complex were discussed,” Minor League Baseball spokesman Steve Densa wrote.

“While the discussion was helpful in identifying goals and objectives, it did not produce any conclusions. Minor League Baseball was there to assist the county in identifying tenants, and was not there to discuss using the facility as an organization.”

However, in a subsequent e-mail to explain O’Conner’s impression of Dodgertown, Densa said Minor League Baseball and the county have “nothing under solid consideration at this time….”

“Dodgertown is a turnkey facility complete with state of the art training facilities for baseball,” he wrote. “The county and Los Angeles Dodgers have been especially diligent in leaving the facility in top-notch shape. While there is nothing solid under consideration at this time, Dodgertown would seem to be an ideal venue of virtually any baseball or baseball- related activities.”

Minor League Baseball has its headquarters in St. Petersburg, and provides administrative oversight of almost all minor league baseball leagues in the country as well as being in charge of baseball’s annual winter meetings. The organization also runs umpiring schools and camps.

“Minor league baseball was just advising us at the time,” said County Administrator Joe Baird. “We had a preliminary meeting with them to discuss options.Right now we are just exploring options.”

Baird said he hopes to set up another face-to-face meeting with minor league officials in the coming days.