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Dodgertown heads west

A preview of the Dodgers' new spring-training complex

For 60 years, Dodger faithful have converged on Vero Beach, Florida each March. That's where Dodgertown could be found, complete with street names like Vin Scully Way and Duke Snider Street, and a ballpark like none other. Holman Stadium's dugouts have no roofs, and landscaping can be found within the seating bowl itself.

But the Dodgers officially divorced Vero Beach following the 2008 spring campaign, and announced that they were moving to Glendale, Arizona for 2009. This meant a sprawling new complex had to be built, one that could accommodate not only the Dodgers, but also the White Sox who've said that at some point, they will join LA's team for spring training in Glendale.

Every few months, I've been checking on the progress of construction in Glendale, and when I visited on Halloween Day of 2008, I was astonished at how complete the facility was. Join me for a look around the complex.

Your run-of-the-mill spring-training complex would not do for the Dodgers. No, this complex needs to be the absolute state of the art. HKS, designers of a number of spectacular stadiums (e.g., Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas, Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, Arkansas, the new Cowboys football stadium) arranged a tour of the complex for me about three-and-a-half months before it was due to be completed. Many thanks to Eric Grenz, the Project Manager for Mortenson Construction, for meeting with me at the site, and to Levi Copenhaver, who took me on a personal tour of the complex.

Because the Dodgers bid a very public farewell to Dodgertown following spring training in 2008, everyone knew LA was moving to Glendale. More of a wildcard in this, though, were the White Sox, who definitely want to move to Glendale, too, but who've had problems escaping their lease in Tucson.

I asked Eric if the goal was to complete only the Dodgers' portion of the complex, and then wait to see when the White Sox would be moving before finishing their clubhouse and practice fields. I was quite surprised to hear that they were told to complete both sides of the complex by February 2009, under the assumption that the White Sox would be moving in at the same time as the Dodgers. This, I didn't think, was public knowledge.

HKS designed the complex with four "customers" in mind: the city of Glendale, the Dodgers, the White Sox and the fans who will flock to the place. The Dodgers are to occupy the eastern half of the complex, so their main clubhouse (above left) is on the eastern edge of the main stadium, which is along the northern boundary of the site. Because both teams' minor leaguers will be training along side their Major League brethren in this complex, there needs to be clubhouse space for them. The Dodgers prefer to have the two groups of players separated, so the minor-league locker-room space is toward the southern end of the complex.

The White Sox, however, have a very different preference in this regard, preferring to have one massive clubhouse for both the big leaguers and the minor leaguers. This structure (above right) is just beyond the right-field wall of the main stadium. This puts it at the northern edge of their (western) half of the complex.

While not at all in the center of the complex, its centerpiece is the as-of-yet-unnamed stadium. I was told that several different colors of seats were considered before gold was chosen. In the photo on the left above, a small section of the seats were installed down the first-base line. This let them see how the color was going to work before a final commitment to the shade was made.

The shot on the right-hand side above was taken behind first base, looking up at the huge upper deck. Here's where the luxury suites and the press box will be. I'm happy to see that the trellised roof will extend out over some of the seats.

The vantage point here is directly behind home plate, on what will be the concourse. Crossing the center of the shot is a "bridge" that will be the way suite-holders and the press will get to the upper level. The building on the right will contain stairs and an elevator.

When this concourse area is completed, it will actually be filled with trees. This will be part of the $4 million worth of landscaping around the complex -- a staggering amount, especially in a desert climate. "I think what you'll see once it's completed and even in a few years once all of the landscaping has had a chance to develop is what the teams wanted was to replicate a Vero Beach like feel but with a desert flavor to it," said Dan Phillips, the designer at HKS responsible for the Glendale project. "I looked at all of the other Cactus League stadiums and complexes and really none of them are unique to the desert setting that they are all in. Many appear that they could be ballparks in any other area of the country. We took our cues from the stark beauty of the desert to create something (in Glendale) that was unique to Arizona."

Note the use of stone in the exterior of the building above -- an expensive, and very welcomed, touch. This stonework is used in some of the other structures around the park as well, including part of the entryway to the park behind home plate (below left). Note that this is where some of the ticket windows will be.

Interestingly, some of the sides of the structures will not be finished with this stonework, and instead will be simple concrete. The color, though, will be quite interesting. "Once completed, the portions of the buildings that will remain concrete will actually be stained in a mottled color that mimics the color of the mountain ranges in the distance," said Phillips. "The buildings themselves further enhance the look of the mountain ranges by jutting up and rising and dropping at different elevations."

On the right side above is a look at left field. The wall is recessed on the left side of the shot because this is where one bullpen will go. In the upper lefthand corner you can see a little of the building that will house the Dodgers' clubhouse.

So at the time of my visit, live baseball was still over three months away, but you can visualize where the Dodgers and, it looks like, the White Sox will soon be residing in the dugouts.

The rendering above (courtesy of HKS) shows what the final project will look like. This image shows the main ballpark from the north, and you can see the small man-made waterway beyond the stadium that separates the White Sox territory (which would be on the upper-right side of this image) from the Dodgers' domain. Note how much larger Chicago's clubhouse -- just beyond the ballpark's right-field fence -- is than LA's. Again, that's because the Dodgers want only the big leaguers in this building. The minor leaguers' locker rooms are several hundred yards to the south.

HKS has designed the new state of the art in spring-training surroundings -- a complex that will truly look at home in the desert of Arizona. I for one can't wait to see the finished product in March!