Minor League Baseball knew it was getting a lot when it took over operation of the historic former spring training home of the Dodgers in Vero Beach, Fla.
What was not part of the deal was the iconic name: Dodgertown. So nearly a year after taking over Dodgertown, Minor League Baseball reluctantly re-introduced it with an entirely new name: Vero Beach Sports Village.
“I would like the facility to be known as Dodgertown for the people of Indian River County and Vero Beach,” MiLB president Pat O’Conner said. “There is 60-plus years of history there. That is Dodgertown for those people and the rest of the world.”
In transforming the 65-acre complex into a sports travel destination and training facility, MiLB planned to draw upon the site’s history and its amenities, including five baseball diamonds, batting tunnels and on-site housing.
But stalled negotiations with the Los Angeles Dodgers over trademark rights left the facility without its famed moniker. It was a move of necessity, O’Conner said, after 10 months of negotiations with the Dodgers, who ended their 60-year relationship with Vero Beach after spring training in 2008 and moved to a new facility outside Phoenix.
“It had gotten to a point that we needed a name to market,” O’Conner said. “Not being able to market for eight months, that hurt us. Today everything is Internet. And to not have a presence at all (online), and to not be able to market, is painful and frustrating.
“That is what drove us to where we have to have a name . . . If it would have worked out months ago, it would be Dodgertown and we would have been marketing it and giving them an East Coast presence.”
The Dodgers aren’t holding onto the trademark for old time’s sake. They brought the name Dodgertown with them to Los Angeles and are using it in various marketing efforts. For one, the club wants the area around Dodger Stadium to be known as Dodgertown rather than Chavez Ravine, even becoming the only major league team to get its own zip code. The Dodgers have also encouraged their minor league affiliates to use the name in their marketing campaigns.
“We do use the term Dodgertown throughout all of our minor league partners and in much of our advertising and promotional campaigns and have been doing so since the start of 2009,” said Dodgers vice president of communications Josh Rawitch, who declined to discuss specifics of negotiations with MiLB.
O’Conner, too, opted to not discuss the negotiations in detail, though the price tag for the name was clearly the main hurdle.
O’Conner still hopes Dodgertown will become a part of the complex’s name again. But he says despite a slow start, Vero Beach Sports Village will become a success. The facility recently hosted the RussMatt Invitational, a baseball tournament that included more than 200 high school and college teams. The Washington Freedom, a professional women’s soccer team, held training sessions there, and lacrosse tournaments are in the works.
“It will market itself when I can put it out there,” he said. “I was prohibited from marketing it at all. That was the dilemma and frustration: While we’re messing around trying to get the license, we’re missing month after month of putting it out in front of people . . .
“It has cost us—cost us big-time. But we survived that and will probably survive worse.”
Oneonta Officially On Move
The offseason carousel of moving minor league teams officially came to a close when the New York-Penn League and Minor League Baseball approved the move of the Oneonta franchise to Norwich, Conn.
Norwich became vacant last fall when the city’s Eastern League franchise moved to Richmond, which saw it 42-year relationship with the Braves come to an end following the 2008 season.
Oneonta, among the older New York-Penn League teams but regularly among the circuit’s worst draws in recent years, won’t be without baseball for long. Damaschke Field will become home to the New York Collegiate Baseball League’s Oneonta Outlaws, previously known as the Saratoga Outlaws.