The Dodger Era in Vero Beach, Fla., officially won't come to an end until later this month when the club's Gulf Coast League affiliate closes out its regular season on the 28th. For all intents and purposes, though, the Dodgers' association with the tiny Treasure Coast town came to an end this offseason when the club packed up and headed west for its new Spring Training facility in Glendale, Ariz.
Vero Beach will suffer another blow Aug. 31 when Tampa Bay's Florida State League affiliate plays its final game at Holman Stadium against Palm Beach. That's because the sale of the Vero Beach franchise to Ripken Baseball has been confirmed by the Florida State League, a transaction that will leave a baseball void on Florida's East Coast. The group will partner with the Rays and move to Port Charlotte for the 2009 season, coinciding with Tampa's opening of its new Spring Training facility, leaving the future of baseball in Vero Beach in jeopardy.
"The sale has been approved," FSL president Chuck Murphy said Friday. "It's the relocation that we're still working on. That will take a couple of weeks to get done. I talked to [Ripken Baseball] the other day and I don't think there will be any problems. It will be alright.
"The sale has gone through. The controlling interest transfer has been approved. The next thing is the relocation."
Ripken Baseball spokesman John Maroon wouldn't confirm any of the details surrounding the acquisition of the franchise or its relocation other than to say that "there are still some aspects of the deal that aren't complete."
How the move of the Vero Beach franchise to the state's West Coast will affect the league's divisional setup remains unclear, though a change would seem to be in order. There are currently two six-team divisions that are germane to the state's geography. By moving a franchise to Port Charlotte, another team would have to move from the West Division to the East.
Lakeland is the West Division team furthest East, though Murphy said no decisions have been made as to what any new divisional format would look like. He did say that the possibility of making North and South Divisions could be discussed, but that would also create a whole new set of travel problems for some teams.
"We have to look at it," he said. "We've talked about it a little, but we haven't done anything formally. We'll probably do it at the fall meeting. Lakeland has had the experience of being in the East before and it was pretty expensive for them. We could look at a North-South thing as well. We'll see what's the best way for us."
As for what happens in Vero Beach, that also remains unclear. The FSL has no room for expansion, so adding a team is out of the question. The Reds are looking to sell their Sarasota franchise but will hold Spring Training there next season, so the odds of that franchise being relocated before 2010 don't look promising.
There have been scores of rumors about the Orioles possibly moving to Vero Beach and using the existing facility during Spring Training. Several sources have indicated that the Ripken group would play a role in keeping Dodgertown active if the Orioles do set up shop there for Spring Training.
Baltimore already has a Class A Advanced affiliate in Frederick of the Carolina League. It wouldn't make sense for them to move to the Florida State League.
"I've heard all the rumors about the Orioles, but that would just be for Spring Training," Murphy said. "I don't know who would be interested in Sarasota, though. I guess toward the end of the season, when teams are looking for other affiliations, something might happen. But Cincinnati might stay there next year anyway.
"For me personally, it's a big loss [at Vero Beach]. All that history is gone. That really is sad. I can understand the Dodgers being so far away, eventually it was going to happen. I just hate to see them move out of there. I don't know of anyone else moving in there for a Florida State League team. We're pretty well set."