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Vero Beach history captivates Schmidt

Times Staff Writer

Consider Jason Schmidt a convert. Little more than a week after dreading leaving his family in Arizona and coming to Florida for spring training, the newest Dodgers starting pitcher is smitten by Dodgertown.

“It’s like summer camp when you’re in junior high,” he said. “It’s a great facility, the fans are great, and there is so much tradition. I love it.”

When Schmidt signed with the Dodgers in November, he was under the impression the Dodgers would be moving their spring operations to Glendale, Ariz., in 2008. Actually, the target date is 2009.

“I knew I’d be here this year, but somebody told me we’d be in Glendale a year from now,” he said.

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Schmidt was intrigued by Vero Beach even before he signed his three-year, $47-million contract. When he was growing up in Kelso, Wash., a member of his church won a week at a fantasy camp at Dodgertown in a raffle.

“I thought that was the coolest thing ever,” Schmidt said. “He came back and wore a Dodgers jersey to church and talked about meeting all these great old ballplayers.”

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Craig Callan could be excused if he were the Dodgers employee most resistant to the team moving its spring training site to Glendale. Callan, the vice president for spring training and minor league facilities, has lived in Vero Beach for 28 years.

Yet he is doing much of the behind-the-scenes work to make the move proceed smoothly. Callan has made about half a dozen trips to Glendale and, along with fellow Dodgers executives Jeffrey Ingram and Sam Fernandez, is shopping for an architect for the new facility.

“If this wasn’t an opportunity to build the best spring training facility in the history of baseball, I might feel differently,” Callan said. “But I love challenges, and this project is my World Series.”

Callan and his wife plan to move to Arizona before the 2009 season.

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The indelible image of Marlon Anderson during his short time with the Dodgers last season is circling the bases. He belted seven home runs and hit .375 in 64 at-bats down the stretch, filling in for slumping rookie Andre Ethier in left field.

Anyone wondering why the Dodgers didn’t consider handing Anderson a starting outfield job when J.D. Drew opted out of his contract needs only to look at his baseball card. The September power burst gave him a career-high in homers -- 12. And Anderson had played only 40 games in left field before adding 15 with the Dodgers.

“I had no expectations of” a full-time job, he said. “I know L.A. is a big market and that they had to do something. They had to go out and get players.”

Anderson broke into the big leagues at second base and played almost every day for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1999 to 2002 and for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003. He was a utility player for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, and remained in the role with the New York Mets in 2005 and the Washington Nationals last year until the trade.

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Now he has experience at all three outfield spots and has played 27 games at first base.

“If you can play second base, the outfield is a breeze,” he said. “And I played 23 games at first for the Mets. It’s nothing new to me.”

His greatest contribution this season might come as a left-handed pinch-hitter. Anderson’s 50 pinch-hits from 2004 to 2006 lead the major leagues.

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steve.henson@latimes.com


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