VERO BEACH — Step into Dodgertown, close your eyes, and you can feel the calendar years flipping backward.
In a heartbeat, it's the 1960s again. There is the mercurial Sandy Koufax coming out of the clubhouse. Don Drysdale stopping to sign autographs as players make their way to the field. Maury Wills putting a towel over his head to get some relief from the open-air dugouts.
There's another full house, as quaint as it gets, with only 17 rows of seats. Buy a hot dog at the Third Base Café and grab a seat at one of the picnic tables behind the stadium.
There isn't a more inviting spring training site than Holman Stadium at the Dodgertown complex, home of the Dodgers since 1949. The Dodgers traumatized a lot of fans by moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958, but they kept coming back here to build a legacy unmatched by any team making the annual spring fling to Florida.
Dodgertown, a converted naval barracks, had a little bit of everything — golf courses, swimming pool, small apartments — that could accommodate 600 major and minor league players back in its peak years.
"All the other ones are baseball fields with fences around them," said Rob "Doc" Giesecke. "…This is more like a resort, which made everyone feel a lot more comfortable. The other ones, you go to work."
Doc knows his way around here better than most folks. He has been around since the early ‘80s, working first as a trainer, then on the grounds crew. He continues to oversee maintenance duties, long after the Dodgers played their last game here on March 17, 2008, before bolting to Arizona. On that day, Doc was one of only three people who got a special shout-out from the organization. He was introduced during the seventh-inning stretch, a fitting tribute for a guy whose ties to Dodger Blue are much more than a pay stub.
"My wife has said to me — often — that she'll end up burying me in here somewhere," Doc said.
Down to a skeleton crew of seven maintenance workers — there were 30 in the peak years — Doc and Dodgertown try to look for a new business model in a tough economy.
They've got high school and college teams here for spring training and tournaments now. This weekend, the Washington Freedom, a professional women's soccer team, comes in for a week. Last month there was a 14-team lacrosse tournament.
Koufax, Drysdale and Wills are all ghosts, of course. Gone with the rest of them.
"You could see the hustle and bustle around here," Doc said, recalling the good times. "The wood bats cracking. Now it's more of an aluminum ping. I can get used to that because it means we have work to do."
Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun