- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 2009

There is a void in Florida as pitchers and catchers arrive at spring training - Dodgertown is empty.

The Los Angeles Dodgers opened the legendary, 60-year-old facility in Vero Beach when the franchise still was located in Brooklyn. They’ve moved west like so many other teams who used to train in Florida but now do so in Arizona.

Dodgertown will be missed by the Washington Nationals. For the Baltimore Orioles, it represents a missed opportunity.

Nationals fans will miss it - the club usually made several trips to Dodgertown in spring training. The players will miss it as well - the Dodgers were one of only a few teams close to the Nationals in Viera.

One of the drawbacks of training in Florida is the travel time involved for teams playing one other. Viera is not particularly close to a lot of other spring training sites, which means more time riding a bus.

There was hope that Dodgertown would have a familiar new tenant come next spring: the Orioles. That would be a great move for fans in the D.C. area who make the trip to Florida. It also would be good for the Nationals to have their I-95 rival close by.

But the Orioles, who since 1996 have trained in the antiquated Fort Lauderdale complex formerly used by the Yankees, so far have done what they often do: negotiate themselves right out of a good deal.

The Orioles have squandered opportunities for a new spring training home in the past, including the Disney complex that is home to the Atlanta Braves, because of their hardball tactics. The club angered elected officials in Vero Beach during talks and were ridiculed by officials in Sarasota during negotiations in that city.

The Orioles now may wind up in Fort Myers. They likely will have to leave Fort Lauderdale because of a dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration over plans to increase the rent at the complex, which sits on FAA land next door to an airport.

The club should have left a long time ago - using the facility has hurt player development. The Orioles don’t have enough room to house all their major and minor leaguers, so the minor leaguers train more than three hours away at a complex in Sarasota. That means, for one thing, that manager Dave Trembley can’t just walk over to a field to watch a young prospect.

The Nationals don’t have that problem. Their Viera complex isn’t in the most exciting location in Florida, but it is functional and offers manager Manny Acta the ability to look at all the minor leaguers also training on-site.

Nationals camp will have a different atmosphere as well this year - a better one, likely. The first week in Viera was tumultuous last spring because of the arrival of volatile Elijah Dukes and steroid poster boy Paul Lo Duca.

Now, with the signing of Adam Dunn, the Nats have a legitimate attraction in camp. One of the pleasures of spring training is watching sluggers launch rockets in batting practice. I expect Dunn may be damaging some cars with his handiwork.

Another pleasure is watching the work of young pitchers, and the Nationals have several worth watching: Collin Balester, who showed enough in time with the major league club last year to remain encouraged; highly touted Jordan Zimmermann, who has a chance to make the rotation; and Shairon Martis. I am particularly interested in watching Terrell Young, the Rule 5 kid they picked up from Cincinnati. (I know, I can’t believe I am saying I want to watch another player with ties to the Reds.)

Here’s something else worth watching, and one of the benefits of training on the Space Coast: rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral.

Space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch Feb. 22 from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at a time to be determined. On March 5, a Delta II Rocket is scheduled to be launched from Cape Canaveral, Pad 17B, at 10:48 p.m.

And then, of course, there are the unscheduled Adam Dunn rocket launches.

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