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Blue skies everywhere

All but a handful of teams have bright outlook for '07

Posted: Tuesday February 20, 2007 9:23AM; Updated: Thursday February 22, 2007 12:37PM
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Nonroster invitee A.J. Ellis is among the latest in a long line of catchers who have honed their skills on the same grounds where Campanella held court.
Nonroster invitee A.J. Ellis is among the latest in a long line of catchers who have honed their skills on the same grounds where Campanella held court.
Chuck Solomon/SI
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In baseball heaven, not one cloud dares impede the glorious sunshine. A slight, sweet breeze whispers through the azaleas, palmettos, royal palms and scrub pines. Perfectly groomed diamonds emit a Zen-like tranquility. And the voices and laughter of the Boys of Summer still rise from the hallowed grounds, their names invoking perpetual youthfulness: Jackie, Pee Wee, Gil, Duke and Campy. In Baseball Heaven -- it says so right there on the official Dodgertown vans in Vero Beach, Fla. -- the view is so spectacular that you can see all the way to October.

"If you can't be optimistic this time of year," Los Angeles manager Grady Little declared at a staff meeting last Friday evening, "then you never can be." As if to prove his point, Little showed up for his team's first spring training workout the next day at 6 a.m., personally unlocking the clubhouse door.

Dodgertown, spring home to this franchise since 1948, when owner Walter O'Malley and general manager Branch Rickey worked their alchemy on an abandoned World War II naval air base, did not invent spring training. It only perfected it. With parklike surroundings and a history that winks and nods at visitors from every corner -- including the filigreed street signs adorned in script with the names of former greats -- Dodgertown creates the optimum conditions for incubating baseball dreams.

So why in hell are the Dodgers leaving Baseball Heaven? Why has the club cut a deal with the Phoenix suburb of Glendale to move, in 2009, to a state-of-the-art spring training facility that it will share with the White Sox? The answer may lie in the $211,000 customized truck that Jon Lieber, a workmanlike pitcher for Philadelphia, drove into Phillies camp last week, or the $190 tickets the Yankees are selling for exhibition games.

It's not just that the Dodgers have outgrown Dodgertown; so also has modern baseball. Commerce has subverted charm. The team's official position is that an Arizona spring home is much closer to its fan base and, given the cluster of teams that train around Phoenix (nine already, plus three more in Tucson), reduces travel. There is also the projected capacity of about 15,000 for the Glendale stadium (including lawn seating), nearly double that of Vero Beach's quaint Holman Stadium, which almost never sells out and where O'Malley ordered roofless dugouts so the fans would feel closer to the players.

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