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Dodgertown's lore comes full circle

Dodgertown's lore comes full circle

As fate would have it, they turned out the lights at Dodgertown on St. Patrick's Day.

March 17 always was the day that turned into night and then into the early-morning hours at the Dodgers' Spring Training complex in Vero Beach, Fla.

St. Patrick's Day was a day of celebration for the Dodgers and for the O'Malley family during a different era of the team's ownership.

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If there was one day that symbolized the Dodgers as a family, it was St. Patrick's Day.

Everyone in the Dodgers' camp was welcome to be a part of the celebration. After the day had been devoted to the business of baseball on the nearby fields and at Holman Stadium, there was the gathering of the Dodgers clan and friends in the lounge and then in the dining room.

All of those who took part in the celebration seemed to be on equal footing. It didn't matter if you were the owner of the team, or a vice president in the organization or the first-year manager of a Class A team.

This day was all about coming together and celebrating friendship and a collective effort of the organization.

I know because I was there for nearly 30 St. Patrick's Day celebrations at Dodgertown.

The Dodgers' decision to move their Spring Training complex from Vero Beach to Glendale, Ariz., next year has been written and commented on from every conceivable angle.

From a business standpoint, the move makes every bit of sense in the world. The Dodgers will have a new spring facility and a new stadium and will be considerably closer to their Los Angeles home and fan base.

You can't argue with the economics of the move. It's not even a close call.

For those of us fortunate enough to have spent considerable time at Dodgertown, or even made one visit, it's not that anything is being taken away from us.

You can't remove something that resides in your heart, in your mind and in your very soul.

My first visit to Dodgertown took place in the spring of 1969 when I was a writer for the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram and assigned to cover the team.

I had the experience of living in the wooden barracks of an abandoned Navy base. Once you stayed in the barracks, you were part of an unforgettable experience.

On one of my first nights in the barracks, I decided it was a good time to do some reading and made myself comfortable by flipping on the portable heater that was plugged into the light switch near my bed.

The next thing I knew, there was total darkness in my room and a loud banging on my door. I went to the door to discover Herbie Scharfman, a photographer for Sports Illustrated, who had a look of panic on his face.

"What happened? What did you do?," inquired Scharfman.

"I didn't do anything other than turn on the heater in my room," I replied.

"You blew out the circuit in the whole wing of the barracks," said Scharfman. "You can't have your lights on and the heater on at the same time. Even the O'Malleys lost the power in their rooms."

Oh yes, those were the days.

I somehow managed to survive and learn from that experience and later that year had the opportunity to join the Dodgers' front office.

It was a special time to be a part of the Dodgers and I was privileged to be there under the leadership of people like Walter O'Malley, Al Campanis, Bill Schweppe , Red Patterson and Walter Alston.

There were many things that made the Dodgers a special organization in those days and there always was the annual renewal of the organization that began in the spring at Dodgertown.

It was a place and time when all of the members of the organization came together, and at breakfast you could often find a couple of Minor League players enjoying a meal, sitting at the table with an established veteran of the Dodgers team.

All of the great Dodgers players from 1948 until the current day had their start as members of the organization at Dodgertown.

It's difficult to say what Dodgertown will look like a year from now, or 10 years from now, but hopefully, there will be another Major League team training at the historic location.

No matter what happens, I know one thing for sure: When St. Patrick's Day rolls around, if you stand on one of the fields at Dodgertown near the clubhouse and near the lounge and listen very carefully, you will hear the music of the Irish playing in the background.

And if you had been fortunate enough to be on the premises during the past 60-plus years, you will know that you were blessed.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as Executive Vice-President and general manager. His book-Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue-was published by SportsPublishingLLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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