History was made in Jackie Robinson’s first game in Vero Beach
Historic Dodgertown celebrates today, March 31, as the 70th anniversary of the first game ever played by major league Dodgers at their historic Spring Training site!
In 1948, Dodgertown first opened as a Spring Training camp for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Not only did Dodgertown provide sufficient training facilities for their approximately 600 players in camp, it attained American civil rights history as the first integrated Spring Training headquarters in the South where all players lived and dined together in the same place.
The Dodger minor league players had already been at the base, getting ready for their season while the Dodgers had played most of March, 1948 against their minor league club, the Montreal Royals, and other major league clubs. So, it was an event for the Dodgers and the city of Vero Beach as the Dodgers would play their Montreal farm club on Dodgertown property.
Holman Stadium at Dodgertown did not open until 1953, but a playing area named as “Field No.2” was used as a satisfactory diamond with major league dimensions. Its location was on the opposite side of the road that faced the Vero Beach Airport.
The Governor of Florida, Millard Caldwell and the Mayor of Vero Beach, Merrill Barber were on hand for the game. In addition, the Commissioner of Baseball, Albert (Happy) Chandler was present.
A sellout crowd of more than 5,000 were present and fittingly, it would be Jackie Robinson who would be the first major league Dodger to homer at Dodgertown when he drove a pitch out of left field in the first inning. One long-time Vero Beach resident remembers that many from the local black community came to watch Robinson play that day. They were, he recalls, standing just beyond the outfield border. (At the time, there was no outfield fence.) “Robinson’s home run cleared that group of people,” he wrote. The Dodgers went onto win the game over the young Montreal players, 5-4. But there was even more history to be made that day.
The Dodgers announced their fine young catching prospect, Roy Campanella, would be added to the Dodgers’ major league roster as the second African-American Dodger position player and third overall player. Jackie Robinson and pitcher Dan Bankhead had played for the Dodgers in 1947, but it would now be Roy Campanella’s proudest day to make a major league team. A photograph taken that day shows Jackie Robinson welcoming Campanella to the ballclub. In July of 1948, Campanella described his selection to the major league club to The Sporting News as “a real thrill.”
Campanella would later win three National League Most Valuable Player Awards in 1951, 1953, and 1955 as a Dodger and play for the 1955 World Championship team. After an auto accident ended his playing career, he became a regular instructor for Dodger catchers in Spring Training at Historic Dodgertown that included John Roseboro, Steve Yeager, Joe Ferguson, Mike Scioscia, and Mike Piazza.