Dodgers take final bow in Vero Beach
Loyal crowd sends off Lasorda & Co. as Dodgertown run ends
DODGERTOWN, Fla. -- Amid tears, symbolic and real, and speeches and enough green to fill River Shannon, the Los Angeles Dodgers took a final bow Monday in their Spring Training home since 1948.This was a genuine Irish wake, if anything made only more morose by a 12-10 loss to Houston. Closure done right: Carl Erskine, the right-hander who delivered Holman Stadium's first pitch in 1953, delivered the final note Monday, playing the national anthem on his harmonica. With equipment trucks already backed up to the Dodgers' clubhouse and being loaded, it started with Tommy Lasorda, green batting helmet in hand, strolling in from the right-field corner, fans rising in ovation to escort him to the third-base dugout. And it ended with another Lasorda procession, through the same corner and under a phalanx of bats being raised by the entire respectful Dodgers team. "Greatest thing I've ever seen. They tore me up," Lasorda said as his stint as "guest" manager also came to an end. "It's something I will never forget, and something I'll appreciate for the rest of my life. What a way to exit." In-between, St. Patrick's Day was raucously celebrated and the Dodgers' departure was poignantly observed. And there was no escaping the deafening echo of generations. The final of Holman Stadium's hundreds of home runs was delivered by pinch-hitter Preston Mattingly -- given his first Grapefruit League at-bat by grateful bench coach Bob Schaefer, who 28 years ago had managed his father, Don, and without whose recommendation, he said, "I now wouldn't be here." Earlier, a tying two-run home run had been struck by David Newhan -- son of Hall of Fame journalist Ross, who covered his first Spring Training here for the Los Angeles Times in 1967 and was in the stands Monday, dealing with his own emotions. It was that kind of a day. During the pregame batting practice, Holman Stadium's speakers sounded every Irish song the P.A. guy could get his hands on. The stands filled with green shirts, green wigs, green facial grease. Congressman Dave Weldon delivered the last ceremonial first pitch, to Rene Rivera. A group of local dignitaries took silent bows at home plate, headlined by Indian River County Administrator Joe Baird and Vero Beach Mayor Tom White.
After Erskine, resplendent in his No. 17 Dodgers uniform, performed the anthem, Dick Crago, Holman Stadium's P.A. announcer for 40 years, welcomed the last crowd:"One more time. ... Welcome to another fine day of baseball at Holman Stadium ..." Then Crago was introducing Lasorda, who had to wait out another long ovation from the sellout crowd of 7,327 before stepping closer to the microphone waiting for him to the left of home plate. "You're going to make me cry, huh?" Lasorda began. Sounding as vibrant as ever, he continued, "I can't find the words to express my feeling for all of you people. We are going to leave, but we will have the memories forever. God bless you." Then they played another game, a wind-blown affair of home runs, rallies and obsession. Los Angeles starters Rafael Furcal and Andre Ethier put in rarities, full nine innings of an exhibition. They talked their ways into that -- they wanted to send off Lasorda, and Dodgertown, with a win. The pair did its part, combining to go 7-for-11, scoring five runs and driving in four. "They had their choice, and they wanted to stay," Schaefer said. "They really wanted to win the last game here." In one sense, Monday morning had been like any other for Lasorda. "When I woke up this morning, I felt blue," said baseball's 80-year-old ambassador. "I know I'll be leaving -- this place, these people, the church I've attended -- for the last time. It's sad. Will I ever get to Vero Beach again? "It's a sad day, but it had to happen. It's the right thing to do, to make our Los Angeles fans happy, and it's something we'll have to accept." At 4:10 p.m. ET on March 17, 2008, Carlos Hines made Holman Stadium's last pitch and Furcal ground it to second baseman Danny Klassen. The Dodgers players formed their gauntlet, and Tina Turner sang through the speakers, "You're simply the best ..." Lasorda stopped for one more look around. On Tuesday morning, the Dodgers will bus to Jupiter, Fla., for a final Grapefruit League game, against the Marlins, then continue on to a plane to Phoenix, Ariz. "Today is tough," Lasorda said. "Tomorrow will be worse."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.