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Dodgers' split with Vero is getting messy

Upset that team's final spring in Florida could be cut short, officials threaten to void lease.

November 10, 2007|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

The divorce between the Dodgers and their longtime spring home of Vero Beach, Fla., turned from amicable to hostile this week, when county officials there threatened to void the Dodgers' lease for their training complex and the team essentially responded by threatening to sell Dodgertown to developers.

The dispute stems from the Dodgers' uncertainty over whether they will travel to China for exhibition games next spring and whether they can move into their new training complex in Glendale, Ariz., as scheduled in 2009.

Officials in Florida are outraged that the Dodgers might cut short their farewell spring in Vero Beach, and frustrated that the team has not guaranteed its departure from Dodgertown so that any team interested in replacing the Dodgers can be assured the facility will be available in 2009.

On Thursday, Indian River County formally notified the Dodgers their lease could be terminated if the team did not fulfill its contractual obligations, including the duty to "play not less than 10 home games with a full team presence" each spring.

On Friday, Dodgers spokeswoman Camille Johnston said that notification could prompt the team to reconsider whether to buy back Dodgertown. If the county terminates the lease, the Dodgers must repay about $15 million in outstanding bonds, but they could then buy the property at fair market value, sell it and keep any profit.

With the prospect of a developer razing the complex rather than allowing another team to move in, city and county officials agreed last year to let the Dodgers simply walk away from the lease at no charge. Johnston said she was unaware of any contract formalizing that agreement.

County Administrator Joe Baird did not return calls from The Times on Friday. He told the Vero Beach Press-Journal he was "upset" the Dodgers might not play a full schedule at Dodgertown next year and said efforts to lure a new team there had been hampered by the Dodgers' refusal to confirm when they would vacate the complex.

"After 60 years, to be treated like this, it's kind of offensive," Baird said.

Johnston said the Dodgers have told Baird they could not finalize their moving date until Dec. 17, when contractors must promise when the Arizona complex will open. "Mr. Baird has known that date all along," Johnston said.

The Dodgers' tentative itinerary next spring: Report to Vero Beach in mid-February, leave in mid-March for the China games, finish training at the Oakland Athletics' complex in Phoenix, play an exhibition against the Boston Red Sox in the Coliseum and possibly another at Dodger Stadium or in Las Vegas.

Baseball's planned Asian tour includes the A's and Red Sox playing two regular-season games in Japan, with the Dodgers and San Diego Padres in two exhibitions in China. A final decision is expected at next week's owners' meetings.

Johnston said the Dodgers can play 10 games in Vero Beach next year even if they go to China and said the team is sensitive to fans interested in traveling to Dodgertown for the farewell spring.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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