The doors to the Los Angeles Dodgers' spring training clubhouse are open, and hanging inside each of the 40 lockers are blue, gray and white jerseys with familiar names sewn on the back, uniform pants that have never touched infield dirt and windbreakers with tags still dangling from the sleeves. An unopened FedEx envelope, the sender's money wasted on next-day delivery, rests on a chair in front of catcher Mike Piazza's locker, and two full cartons of Bazooka bubble gum sit on a table in the center of the clubhouse. The room is frigid because the air conditioning is on high. Linger a moment too long and you begin shivering.
"It's like walking into a funeral parlor," says Dodger traveling secretary Bill DeLury. "Every time I take two steps into the locker room I have to get out of there real quick."
"It should be filled with laughter and guys talking," says Mike Busch, a minor league third baseman who had a locker in this room last spring but was dropped from L.A.'s 40-man roster during the winter. "Now it's just dead quiet."
Last week when the baseball strike passed the 200-day mark and exhibition play began, it was obvious that more was missing from Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., than the major leaguers. The spirit that had turned the place into a spring training mecca is absent as well. Imagine a heavy-metal concert at Carnegie Hall or bad community theater on Broadway, and that is replacement baseball in Dodgertown, the gem of spring training diamonds.
Baseball poets rhapsodize about spring training as a time of rebirth and renewal, but now they must come up with new metaphors. "I've seen more life at a mortician's convention!" Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda shouts when his farmhands appear listless during a workout. A funeral home? A mortician's convention? How about a morgue, a place for unidentified bodies? Take your pick, baseball bards.
This spring Dodgertown is a ghost town. During the first few weeks of camp when hundreds of fans ordinarily would be milling about the compound, only a few ambled along Duke Snider Drive, Vin Scully Way, Jackie Robinson Avenue and Roy Campanella Boulevard to watch workouts. First-time visitors still marveled at the 450 pristine acres, which include five ball fields, citrus groves and two golf courses, but they barely took notice of the uniformed players walking the grounds.
There were even empty stools at Bobby's 3, a local hangout for Dodger fans where, during spring training, patrons normally stand three deep and shout their drink orders to Smokin' Joe behind the bar. A few days before the Dodgertown exhibition opener, a 5-3 win over the Detroit Tiger replacement players last Friday, two longtime Dodgertown regulars, Headgear and Pittsburgh Brad, both retirees from the City of Steel, had plenty of elbow room.
"I don't know if I'm going to the game," said Headgear, reaching for his vodka and water. Known as Headgear since he started wearing a hat in high school to hide a case of premature baldness, he has made the trip to Vero Beach for the past 30 years. In fact he is such a spring training fixture at Bobby's that co-owner Bobby McCarthy had a brass nameplate inlaid at his usual spot at the bar: IN HONOR AND DEEP APPRECIATION TO HEADGEAR.
"It's hard to say," said Pittsburgh Brad, who a few years ago decided he liked Dodgertown so much that he moved to Vero Beach permanently. (No one ever bothered to change his nickname to Vero Beach Brad, though.)
"Probably not going," said Headgear, whose right arm was in a sling, the result of a fall on the ice back home. "We were both strong union men. I was a steelworker in Pittsburgh. Brad was a firefighter. But, then again, we never miss opening day. Oh, I don't know."