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Craig Callan is back on job at Vero's Holman Stadium
BY IAN M. LOVE - MANAGING EDITOR (Week of May 7, 2009)

These days when Craig Callan gazes out his window at the pristine outfield grass of Holman Stadium, he literally sees a world of possibilities.

Professional football as early as this fall, college baseball tournaments as early as next spring, and a wide variety of umpire’s clinics, baseball, soccer and lacrosse camps, international baseball teams playing here, and perhaps even once again a major league baseball team using Holman Stadium for spring training: these are all among possible scenarios Callan is working.

After spending 30 years in Vero Beach in the Dodgers’ front office, Callan is back to manage the old Dodgertown for Minor League Baseball, which just took over the Dodgertown facilities. On his first official day on the job, Callan took time out to talk about the future with Vero Beach 32963.

“Minor and major league baseball have a lot of international contacts and they will work with us,” Callan said. “If we don’t have a major league team training here, it is very possible we could have international baseball. It might take a little time, but we are a natural fit because in the past we have had Korean teams here (LG Twins) and (the Chunichi Dragons and Osaka Buffaloes ) from Japan.”

The most immediate news is that football now seems likely to come to Vero this fall in the form of the start-up United Football League. The fledgling UFL had said as recently as last month that the four teams for the 2010 season would all practice together in Arizona.

However, a league spokesman now confirms there are ongoing discussions with Callan, who expects teams from Orlando and New York to use Vero Beach as their training headquarters from Sept. 15 to Nov. 25.

“If we get that UFL deal, that will be great,” Callan said.”It will be dateline Vero Beach, just like when the Dodgers were here, there will be a lot of interest.”

One of the interesting dynamics of the deal between Indian River County, the city of Vero Beach and Minor League baseball is the amount of goodwill that appears to exist between all the parties involved and the high regard all hold for the property and one another – including Major League Baseball, which thus far has only an unofficial role.

Callan speaks reverentially of the hallowed ground Dodgertown has become to baseball lovers of all stripes, including Minor League President Pat O’Conner, who spent the summer of 1981 as a Dodgertown intern, and County Commissioner Wesley Davis, who has remarked how the new Dodgertown tenants want to have an “O’Malley-like” relationship with Vero Beach referring to the long love affair between the city and former Dodger owners Walter and Peter O’Malley.

Indeed, as of press time, Minor League Baseball’s $1-a-year lease of Dodgertown had yet to be signed, but neither side seemed to have any doubts as to its completion though both remarked with some nervousness that the deal was in the hands of the lawyers.

So having taking a month off after retiring from the Dodgers (and welcoming his new son to the world), Callan is trying to put a business plan in place that will keep Dodgertown busy, his new bosses prosperous and the community happy.

(By the way, the name of the facility will be changing once an agreement is reached with officials in Los Angeles – with the new owners hoping a deal can be made to call it Historic Dodgertown).

“The game plan is that Minor League Baseball comes in here, and just like we did with the Dodgers, we find pieces of business to go along with the core business,” Callan said. “So with the Dodgers it was Spring Training, adult baseball camps and the minor league team’s use of the facility. “

The (new owners) will have internal use, whether it be umpire’s clinics or clinics for college and high schools. Another avenue is that major league baseball has not had the opportunity before, but now they can come here and hold meetings and functions that we weren’t able to provide because of our other commitments.”

One option Callan has already pursued is bringing in the United Football League here. In fact, there is a possibility that one of the players who will train in Vero Beach is former NFL quarterback Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons, as he works toward reinstatement in the NFL following his animal cruelty conviction.

Vick is currently suspended from the NFL and under the way the UFL is structured, the Orlando franchise – to be coached by former New York Giants head coach Jim Haslett – has the rights to sign players from the Falcons. Vick has not said publicly if he would consider the UFL option, but Haslett went on record as saying he would give the quarterback another chance.

“Obviously there’s a process,” Haslett was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel. “I do believe that guys deserve a second chance. I know Michael personally from playing against him and spending time with him. I think he is a pretty good kid.”

The other group Callan is talking to is RussMatt baseball, which runs college and high school tournaments throughout the spring.

“Typically a team comes for a week,” RussMatt director Dave Barnard recently told Vero Beach 32963. “Since colleges have varying spring break schedules it adds up to be 100-plus teams.”

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, Fla., to make up its central Florida operation — which boasts about 200 teams. Barnard said his organization had just a one-year lease in Winter Haven and is interested in forging a long-term relationship at 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, the economic impact would be in the millions of dollars.”

Under this scenario, only the teams would be located at the Dodgertown facility. Any family members that traveled to see the games would be staying and eating in local establishments.

After those two possibilities, Callan is willing to consider all comers – provided they make sense for those concerned.

“(The UFL and RussMatt) are big chunks of business and I am a one-man show,” Callan said. “It is going to take a while to go out and solicit business and it is going to take a while after soliciting business to book it and make sure it is a good fit. There is going to be a start up time and a ramp up time.”

Callan exudes confidence that once the word gets out that Dodgertown is open and anxious for business, the groups will come.

“It’s an on-going process, no we haven’t figured it out completely yet, but we know how to do it when we get it, because that is what we have done here before,” Callan said. “We know how to run a conference center; we know how to run a spring training or a training camp. We have all the tools to be successful in both.

“We are looking into the possibility in the open areas we could be doing soccer camps, lacrosse camps so we are not limiting ourselves just because we are baseball. We’ve got a great sports facility.”

One option that may become a thing of the past is hosting a major league baseball team during spring training. Minor league baseball is open to having major league players again on the grounds, but If a deal is signed with RussMatt, the timing would exclude that possibility.

“Minor league wants, if there is a team out there to work with, a major league baseball team,” Callan said. “There is an on-going relationship with minor and major league baseball, they are like brothers and sisters. I think having a major league team train would be good for the economy, it would be good for the community because they are used to it. It would have to be the right fit, but if the opportunity arises we would pursue it expeditiously.

“I have learned never to say the opportunity is not there because I have seen teams like the Dodgers who were locked into contracts and were able to move. Having said that, a lot of the other teams have long-term contracts. I think Baltimore is one of the few East Coast grapefruit teams that is not locked into a contract.

“Baltimore is a team that everyone assumes it would be, and if Baltimore had an interest, we would reach out to them and find out what their needs are. We would weigh what is the benefit to the community, what is the benefit to the people running the facility and then make a good business decision.”

Beyond that, Callan will be brainstorming with the Minor League Baseball officials to keep the turnstiles at Dodgertown turning and conference facilities buzzing with activity.

“What I envision is this being a very active place, but remaining the historic Dodgertown facility,” Callan said. “My hopes are that people are surprised by the amount of activity. I would hope they would be impressed with all the different types of businesses that will have been brought into Dodgertown compared to what they think now.

“Minor league baseball is a pretty big corporation and I just think we are going to drive all kinds of business in here and my hope is that in five years we have expanded into all kinds of sports and not be just baseball. Meaning football, soccer camps kind of like Disney World does with its Wide World of Sports.