Offday: Spring Training in Pictures

After yesterday’s noon-midnight Opening Day baseballgasm, there’s only 7 games today. More than half the teams in baseball are off, and it’s only the second day of the season. Not only that, there’s not even much to discuss. Are we really going to dwell any longer on yesterday’s Padilla-fueled disaster?

Hell, no. Yet with nothing to talk about, let’s look back to last weekend, for an up close look at Dodger spring training, both at Camelback Ranch and the Reds’ park in Goodyear. 25 pictures of Dodger goodness (yes, taken by my dad, happy?) I would have put this up far earlier today, but it wasn’t easy to find a workaround for WordPress’ silly “no flash” rule. Enjoy.

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So Long, Spring Training. Hello, Real World.

Thoughts from an outstanding spring training weekend (2 games, 2 Dodger wins) while flying over snowy northern Arizona to a connection in Denver, which may be my new home since NYC is apparently living through a hurricane…

Most dominating pitching performance: With all due respect to Charlie Haeger, who put up 5.1 scoreless against Seattle and hopefully sewed up the #5 job, this has to go to Clayton Kershaw for the complete devastation he laid on Reds 3B Juan Francisco. Francisco struck out each of the 3 times he faced Kershaw, but that doesn’t even do it justice. Between being taunted by his fellow lefty with mid 90s heat and solid offspeed stuff, Francisco nearly screwed himself into the ground like Bugs Bunny trying to keep up. You almost felt bad for him. Almost.

Best performance by a player who I wanted the Dodgers to trade for: Reds OF Laynce Nix, who is a lefty bat with good power and solid defense. As I mentioned last week, I think he’s a far better option than Garret Anderson, and therefore it was a little gratifying to watch him take a Kershaw pitch and turn it into a laser off the right field wall for a double.

Worst showing by a major metropolitan area: Phoenix, for the incredibly lackluster downtown area on Saturday night. I joked that there was more activity around the movie theatre in my hometown than there was in downtown Phoenix, but its sort of true. There’s supposedly 1.5 million people who live in Phoenix… are they counting the entire state? It was like living through “I Am Legend”, just without the aggressive zombies. As far as I know.

Most valuable Tweet: This goes to “tpferriera”, for his (?) invaluable suggestion to check out Scottsdale rather then Phoenix for some nightlife. Just no comparison there.

Best looking Dodger legend: Don Newcombe, looking surprisingly spry while throwing out the first pitch at Saturday’s game. There’s a flip side to that coin, though, and that’s…

Worst looking Dodger legend: Tommy Lasorda, who… well, it’s been a long time since Tommy’s been in the kind of shape one could be proud of, but seeing him slowly amble down the foul line in full uniform like he was 80% comprised of cottage cheese was, well, disturbing.

Most unintentionally hilarious newscast: To Phoenix’s Channel 5 (I think) for its’ high-school-quality and far-too-artsy coverage of their lead story, a motorcycle accident that killed several. I think the story has enough drama, friends, no need to try to add to it with extreme closeups and shooting stories of survivors by having them positioned so that you can get their reflections in the bike’s rear view mirrors. Now onto Senator McCain’s reelection bid.. but wait, breaking news!! Bees have invaded a home in the suburbs! (I swear this all happened.)

Happiest tattooed, scarred, silver-toothed, blinged-out, gang-member felon dbag: To the nameless fellow (but let’s be honest, it has to be something like “Snake” or “Mad Dog”, right?) proudly running down the concourse displaying the fresh Vin Scully autograph on the shoulder of his Dodger jersey. Sometimes I wonder if Vin is wasted calling baseball games when he really ought to be bringing peace to the Middle East or something. Let me tell you, the crowd that gathered when he came out of the booth was bigger than any player got.

Most random Dodger jersey: There were a surprising amount of Gagne shirts still in use, which I guess really isn’t that big of a surprise. I did enjoy the Sax #3 sighting, but the winner here has to be the guy still rocking Raul Mondesi’s #43. Honorable mention: For a guy who hasn’t even officially made the team yet, I did see several DeWitt shirts in the crowd. Mostly on the ladies, though, so he’s got that going for him.

Worst performance by a fan base: Reds fans, for their paltry showing in a brand-new park on the last Sunday of spring. Despite the weather being absolutely perfect and the Dodgers starting their regular 8 plus Kershaw, the Reds attracted almost literally half of the crowd at the previous day’s Dodger home game. Not only that, the breakdown was something along the lines of 50% Dodger fans, 30% Reds fans, and 20% empty seats. This is why Cincinnati moved to Arizona?

Private conversation I wish I could have heard: Andre Ethier walking back to the main field with Peter Gammons attached to him. I do have a picture of this somewhere, but knowing Gammons, he’s probably asking Ethier if he has any dirt on the Red Sox. Homer.

Oddest chance meeting weirdly mirroring my own life: To the family in front of us at the Reds game, who were Nationals & Yankee fans from Virginia, yet had a small boy who was a diehard Tiger fan (to the point that he wanted to move to Michigan – good luck with that – because he played on the Tigers in his first year of organized ball. Uh, that doesn’t sound familiar or anything…

Live from Camelback: the Charlie Haeger Show

Fun fact about Arizona: just because it seems a little chilly in the morning doesn’t mean that it won’t be blazingly HOT at the park, though you’ll hear no complaints from this pasty easterner. Camelback’s a pretty nice setup, since the practice fields and paths back to the main park take players directly through fans.

In fact, our timing couldn’t have been better – as we walked in, half the team trotted back to take BP mere inches in front us, including Manny, Kemp, Ethier, DeWitt, Blake, Hu, & Mattingly. If I had any idea how to include pictures in a post I’m writing on my phone, I would, because Manny and his dreads look even more ridiculous close up.

After watching Hiroki Kuroda and Josh Lindblom throw bullpen sessions – and let me tell you, Lindblom’s curve in person is killer – we went to the next field over to watch everyone’s favorite drill, pitchers fielding practice. All of the main starters and relievers were there, except for Ramon Troncoso – not sure why. For what would otherwise be a tedious drill on a hot day, the gang was audibly laughing and getting on one another, yelling for laps when a ball was booted.

After catching the end of BP, destroying some sausages, and chatting with some friendly Mariners fans, it was game time. I saw Dodger exec Josh Rawitch in the crowd more than once, and though I wanted to say hi, he seemed extremely busy so I concentrated on the delicious Shock Top brew.

As for the game itself… well, I’ve seen other writers saying that one of the Ortiz catastrophes will win the 5th spot, but I just can’t see how its not Charlie Haeger. Against what was more or less the regular Mariner lineup, Haeger was dominating in allowing just 2 hits over 5 scoreless innings, including striking out the side in the first. If possible, he was even more dominating than the line shows, as hitter after hitter looked completely foolish against him.

For the second time in a row, Ramon Ortiz pitched just one inning, seemingly making it clear that he’s headed for the pen. Carlos Monasterios didn’t make it through his inning of work, and Russ Ortiz gave up a homer in his turn. Make a case for Eric Stults if you like, but there is absolutely no valid reason why retreads like the Ortizes (or Josh Towers) should be kept at the expense of losing Haeger, who’s been a favorite of this blog for a while now.

In addition to the pitching, the Dodgers looked tight. Ethier crushed a homer to center, Casey Blake had an RBI double, and even though I hate to admit it, Jamey Carroll made a fine stab at SS to start a 6-4-3 DP with Chin-Lung Hu and Ronnie Belliard.

Still, today belongs to the knuckleball… as should the 5th spot in the rotation. On to Goodyear for Dodgers @ Reds tomorrow.

Be Excellent To One Another This Weekend…

(Yeah, that’s right. A Bill & Ted joke. What of it?)

…because your friend MSTI is flying thousands of miles away to go to Camelback Ranch. I went to Vero Beach three times (plus a non-Dodger stop in Orlando for the Braves last year), but I’ve never experienced Arizona baseball. Plus, I believe that the two games I’m seeing (Mariners @ Dodgers, Dodgers @ Reds) feature Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, so it’s win/win for a guy who was terrified of seeing nothing but Ortizes this weekend.

Since it’s about 50 degrees and raining in NYC right now, the timing couldn’t be better. Anyway, since I’m an addict, I’ll be keeping up with everything on the MSTI Twitter feed, so hop over there to follow along with the fun. There’s a non-zero possibility I’ll post here if something big breaks, but Twitter’s probably the way to go for the weekend.

In the meantime, I leave you with this, which is basically the face I made when I heard that Vicente Padilla was named Opening Day starter.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wdHxyGcLoQ]

Official Guide To Vero Beach 2008

So, while my partner in crime jumps out of his chair and yells either: “Holy shit, someone hacked the blog!,” or “He’s… ALLLIVVEE!!,” I’ve been getting a few e-mails lately for advice regarding Vero Beach. So, I thought of giving them tips on the places to see there and recall my stories of hanging out with Maury Wills, or the time Sandy Koufax was down there and gave me pitching advice, or perhaps the time I went out to dinner with Tommy Lasorda and he stuck me with the bill.

But then I woke up and realized that I am 2,700 miles away, have never been there and never will. But, instead, I came up with a handy alternative. I have asked SamAdams from the BBWC to create a guide for all of you going this final year. Sam has practically lived there and knows everything there is to know about Vero Beach and Dodger Town, so enjoy!

A Guide to Dodgers’ Final Spring Training in Vero Beach

 

If you are going to Vero Beach for the Dodgers’ final spring fling, here are some tips to help you navigate the area and catch some of the truncated spring schedule.

 

Getting There

Vero Beach is primarily served by the Orlando airport (MCO). Non-stop flights are available on major carriers such as American, Delta, and United. The airport is also served by Continental, Southwest, and most major airlines. MCO is a 100-mile drive to Vero. Go east on the Beachline Expressway (toll of $1.25) for about 30 miles, then I-95 south about 60 miles to exit 147.

 

West Palm Beach (PBI) is closer. It’s about 75 miles south on I-95, but does not have as many flight options from the west coast. Melbourne airport (MLB…how appropriate) is only 35 miles from Vero, but is served primarily by Delta and has no direct flights from the west, but if you don’t mind changing planes in Atlanta, it’s a nice 45 minute drive along the coast down US-1 to Dodgertown.

 

Geography

Vero Beach is divided into two sections, the mainland and the island, or the beach as the island residents like to call it. Dodgertown is located centrally on the mainland. The eastern boundary of Vero Beach proper is the Indian River Lagoon/Atlantic Ocean and the western boundary is the I-95 area.

 

Navigating around the area is very simple, once you understand the Manhattan style grid arrangement. State highway 60 is the primary east-west corridor and is named 20th Street . All east-west routes are called “streets” and north-south routes “avenues”. The street numbers decrease to the south and increase to the north. Thus, 26th St. is north of 20th St. , and 16th St. is south of 20th St . In the same manner, Avenues, the north-south routes increase from east to west. 1st Ave. is at the water’s edge and 100th Ave. is near I-95. In addition to I-95 on the western edge of town, US-1 is a major north-south artery on the east side of the mainland.

 

The island, while part of Vero Beach , is its own little world. It is a narrow (less than one mile wide) barrier island that runs along much of the Atlantic Coast of Florida. It is bisected by highway A1A. This is an area of upscale homes, shopping, and restaurants, and its main streets in Vero are Ocean Drive and Cardinal Dr . There are two bridges that take you to the island. The Barber Bridge is an extension of Highway 60 (just follow the signs) and the other is an extension of 17th St .

 

To get to Dodgertown from 20th St. (Highway 60), from the west (I-95) take 43rd Ave. north and turn left (east) on 26th St . From the east, take 27th Ave north and turn left on 26th St. / Aviation Blvd.

 

Things to Do

Get to Dodgertown EARLY. Enter through the Holman Stadium main entrance. Immediately, glance to your right and you will see the major league clubhouse plaza and the large Dodgers logo on the front of the building. The second floor of this building is the administrative offices. Ned Colletti, Kim Ng, and other Dodgers executives and staff work out of these offices during spring training. Many of these offices offer a great view over the right field fence into Holman Stadium. Long home runs land on the balcony of the executive offices. The entire lower floor is devoted to the major league clubhouse, players’ fitness center, trainer’s room, and manager’s/coaches’ office.

 

Just outside the clubhouse building is Maury’s Pit, where Maury Wills can be seen teaching bunting, baserunning techniques, and sliding. Adjacent to that are the pitchers’ mounds where bullpen sessions can be observed throughout the morning. The major league batting cages are next to the pitchers’ area, although visibility is limited. You will clearly see the players entering and exiting the cages.

 

As you exit the plaza, walk to the right. Drop a few bucks at the gift shop on some cool Dodgertown souvenirs, then continue walking and cross the bridge on your left onto Vin Scully Way . To your left is Practice Field #2. To your right is a workout area and beyond that is Practice Field #1. Just beyond field 2 are more batting cages and next to field 1 is the famous “strings” area, where many famous Dodger pitchers learned command of the strike zone.

 

What makes Dodgertown unique is that throughout this ambling tour, you have probably walked past several Dodger players moving from one area to the next. If they have finished their workouts, they may be amenable to signing autographs. You’ll probably see Tommy Lasorda riding about on his golf cart, Manny Mota on his bicycle, and Joe Torre watching live hitting on one of the fields. Take your time. Soak it all in. The game doesn’t start until 1 p.m. You got here at 8 a.m. , didn’t you?

 

Restaurants

Vero is served by many of the major “chain” restaurants, (Outback, Carraba’s, Appleby’s TGI Friday’s, Ruby Tuesday, Chili’s, etc., and we won’t mention them further. They are easy to find, if that’s what you’re looking for. The same can be said for fast food franchises. Rather, we’ll try to list some of the local/area restaurants and give a critic’s opinion of them by type of food. This isn’t Zagat’s, just some personal observations.

 

Barbecue

If you’re from Texas , you might want to skip this category. Same for the Mexican food.

 

“Rip’s, the Place for Ribs” is one beach based restaurant with affordable prices, especially if you get there in time for the Early Bird specials. (You knew the state bird of Florida is the early bird, didn’t you?) Rip’s is easy to get to. Take the 17th St. Bridge to the island, cross A1A, turn right on Ocean Drive and it’s a few blocks on your right, 1555 Ocean Dr . The ribs are pretty good, the chicken is very good, and the service is prompt and friendly, and the atmosphere is very pleasant. They have happy hour specials and Yuengling on tap.

 

Bono’s is good for Florida barbecue. It’s located at 1500 US-1. (from highway 60 go south five blocks on US-1, and it’s on your left.) The barbecued chicken can range from delicious to dry. During spring, when the snowbirds have flocked in, it will probably be fresh and moist. Their ribs are good and the ambiance is nice and service is attentive. On Monday they have draft beer for 75 cents, limit 3.

Believe it or not, in addition to Bono’s there is another barbecue restaurant on Highway 60 called Sonny’s. Get it? Sonny Bono’s. I’ve never eaten there and have heard missed reviews. There are no restaurants in town named Cher ’s.

 

Woody’s is located north of Vero in Sebastian on US-1. It’s more of a family style barbecue place, and not worth the drive, but if you happen to be there, the food is acceptable.

 

Mexican

Not a lot of options and the only one that I would recommend is:

Ay Jalisco! The salsa is very good, the chips are warm and fresh, and some of the menu options are pretty good. I like the Pechuga Pollo, especially if they don’t over cook the chicken. Dos Equis Amber is on draft and frequently a happy hour item. They have three locations, but I recommend the one at 1909 20th St. across from Miracle Mile.

 

There is a Mexican restaurant very close to Dodgertown on 26th Ave /Aviation called La Fonda. We ate there soon after they moved from their 14th Ave. location, and, well, let’s just say we were not “fond” of the food. Maybe it’s improved, but try it at your own risk.

 

Cuban

Felix’s is located south of Dodgertown in the 400 block 43rd Avenue . They serve authentic Cuban cuisine in a casual, relaxed atmosphere.

 

Sunny Days Deli serves breakfast and lunch and is located at 2263 14th Ave. Great sandwiches and authentic Cuban cuisine. The owners moved to Vero Beach from Key West within the last year or two.

 

Chinese

Linn’s Garden has a good buffet, and is conveniently located on US1 just south of 20th St. on the left.

Szechuan Palace is convenient to Dodgertown. It’s located at 1965 43rd Ave. just south of D’town. It features pretty standard fare with a buffet.

 

Plum Tree is south about four-five miles south from Dodgertown at 43 Ave. and Oslo Rd. in the Publix Shopping Center behind Walgreens. Great take-out place with limited seating (about six tables). Try their steamed dumplings. No atmosphere.

 

Italian

For a simple Italian meal with no frills, but great prices, try Italian Delight, 600 6th Ave. South on US-1 to 6th St. on the left, tucked into a hard to get to shopping center. Nothing fancy, no wine list, just good food in copious quantities. Cash only! They have a couple of baseball pictures hanging in there, but they recently remodeled (who would guess?) and I didn’t see the Mike Piazza pictures last time, but they still had Vero resident and local icon, Bruce Froemming’s mug shot.

 

Italian Grill (not a lot of imagination in these names, folks) is very convenient to Dodgertown at 2180 58th Ave. The food is good, the service acceptable, and the atmosphere is okay. How is that for a glowing endorsement? You can’t beat the convenience, though.

 

Vincent’s Restaurant & Pizzeria, 510 21st St. at Miracle Mile has good pizza and Italian dishes in a pleasant, low key atmosphere. Sandy Koufax shops at the Publix super market just across the street.

 

Villa Nova 1327 21st St. features quality food and the worst service imaginable. It’s almost as if the owner, Stella, tries to offend every customer with her rude and caustic manner. Plan on a long evening if you dine there.

 

Bella Napoli, 1340 US-1. Very good food, excellent service, nice atmosphere, convenient location, and a little on the pricey side.

 

Ti Amo Sempre 3001 Ocean Dr. Excellent food, great ambiance, and very good service. The owners moved to Vero Beach from Colorado and have been in business here for about five years. (They owned a restaurant by the same name near Frisco , CO .) Expect to pay a premium price for this prime location and fine food.

 

Seafood

Ocean Grill, 1050 Sexton Plaza is THE place in Vero Beach if you don’t mind spending the money. This award winning establishment overlooks the Atlantic , the menu is excellent, service superb, and the atmosphere is wonderful. Extensive wine list and great steaks, too.

 

Mr. Manatee’s, 1 Royal Palm Point is a casual seafood grill. They feature daily specials and this is a good, informal place to gather after a Dodger game.

 

Lobster Shanty, Royal Palm Point (just down from Manatee’s and under the same ownership) is a slightly more formal, though still casual seafood restaurant. The restaurant overlooks the Indian River and the food is good.

 

Riverside Café, 3301 Bridge Plaza Drive …located just to the south side and practically under the Barber Street Bridge on the river side of the island. Good happy hour place and very good food. Nice sunset views. Go for drinks in the evening, check out the menu, and go from there. The scenery is usually good, inside and out.

 

South Beach Grill, 1410 Highway A1A. Take the 17th St. Bridge to the island, turn right on A1A, and it’s about a half mile down on your left. This is a good choice for an upscale restaurant without breaking the bank.

 

Steak

Hardwood Grill is located several miles north of Vero on US1 at the small town of Winter Beach . It’s on your left and the location is rural. Excellent steaks, attentive service, good wine list, and nice ambiance are features of this out of the way spot. I know it’s a favorite of former MLB commissioner, Fay Vincent, because I’ve seen him there two or three times. Fairly pricey, but well worth it.

 

14th Avenue Steakhouse, 2023 14th Avenue . Good steaks, excellent service, nice atmosphere in a convenient location.

 

Bobby’s, 3450 Ocean Drive . You are greeted by a large, autographed photo of Tommy Lasorda, and this is said to be one of Tommy’s favorite haunts. (That means he eats free.) Great location, good food and service in a very pleasant environment. Not inexpensive, but try it for lunch if you want to save your money. It is reported that after decades at this location, Bobby’s may be moving to Palm Point. This is unconfirmed, but comes from a reliable source. I have seen former Dodgers Ralph Branca and Ron Perranoski there on separate occasions. Plan on a long wait for dinner.

 

Breakfast and Lunch

Tomkat’s is my favorite place for breakfast and lunch in town. Don’t let the name scare you away Dodger fans, there is no connection between Tomkat’s and Brett Tomko! Tomkat’s features a small, but eclectic menu, and you won’t be disappointed.

 

Old Towne Café is a quarter mile from Dodgertown near the corner of 26th St. / Aviation Blvd. and 27th Ave. It’s a traditional home cooking restaurant with good breakfast and an all you can eat Friday fish fry.

 

C. J. Cannon’s 3114 Cherokee is located at the Vero Beach airport terminal across 26th Ave. from Dodgertown. It is a local favorite spot.

 

Mrs. Macs Filling Station, 951 Old Dixie Highway , is another local favorite. Its automotive theme is carried all the way to red rags for napkins.

 

Hotel/Motels

Sea Spray Gardens Motel is located at 936 Causeway Blvd. To get there, take the 17th St. Bridge across A1A, continue two blocks, and the Sea Spray is on your left. It is basically a 60’s style motel. Each room has a kitchenette, so despite being almost on the beach, you can really make it a budget stay if you want to do your own cooking. It has a pool and laundry facilities, and while it’s nothing fancy, the location is excellent.

 

The Driftwood Resort, 3150 Ocean Drive is near the heart of the beach side. It offers ocean villas. In-season rates will run you about $150 and up.

 

The Holiday Inn is a few blocks north of the Driftwood and is adjacent to the original Bobby’s restaurant location.

 

Just north of the Holiday Inn is the Vero Beach Hotel and Club. They offer suites along with 1-3 bedroom accommodations with accompanying sticker shock that one would expect from a top quality resort.

 

Among the newer motels in Vero is the Hampton Inn. It is located west of I-95, but is still only a 15 minute drive to Dodgertown.

 

Nearby is the Country Inn and Suites. Both it and the Hampton are within walking distance of the Outlet Mall and a Cracker Barrel Restaurant.

 

The Comfort Inn is located on US1 south of Highway 60. It is within walking distance of several restaurants.

 

The Vero Beach Resort, 8800 20th St. (Highway 60) is one of the few establishments which accepts pets. (No La Quinta in Vero.) Don’t let the name “resort” fool you. It’s basically a converted Days Inn and has an IHOP on the premises. If you’re bringing a pet, it may be the last resort.

The Best Western is located across Highway 80 from the VB Resort. One of the Dodger players mother stayed there last year and said it was horrible. However, they have advertised a complete remodeling, so it might be acceptable.

 

Golf

Sandridge Golf Course boasts two public 18-hole, par 72 courses. It is located at 5300 73rd St . Go north on 58th St , and it is about 50 blocks north of Highway 60, on the right. One of the courses is called the Lakes and the other the Sands. Both have plenty of both and it’s hard to tell which course you’re actually playing. Bring your sand wedge and ball retriever to both.

 

The Club at Pointe West is located south of Highway 60 ( 20th St. ) near 75th Ave. It is an 18 hole semi-private course.

 

Vista Plantation Condominium Golf Course is located at Highway 60 near 62nd Ave. This is a short, par 60-ish, 18 hole course, so you won’t need your driver. It’s open to the public and convenient to Dodgertown.

 

Shopping

Major shopping areas include the Indian River Mall on Highway 60 between 58th and 62nd Ave. and the Outlet Mall just west of I-95 on Highway 60.

 

Upscale shops abound along Ocean Drive and Cardinal on the island.

 

Night Life

The options here are somewhat limited, beyond the restaurants previously noted. Maybe that’s why Walter O’Malley chose Vero Beach for his spring training base over 60 years ago. It’s pretty hard to get into trouble in this great little town.

 

Thanks, Sam!

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg