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Ground broken for new complex

Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX -- Fifteen months from the targeted opening of a spring-training facility the Dodgers will share with the Chicago White Sox, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt sank a shovel into a pile of dirt on the edge of a barren lot at the complex’s official groundbreaking Monday.

“Realistic” and “better than 50-50" was how McCourt characterized the possibility of the Dodgers’ spending their 2009 spring training on the Phoenix property owned by the neighboring city of Glendale. But he conceded that the team might be forced to spend another spring in Vero Beach, Fla., because the 141-acre complex might not be completed in time.

“It’s going to open, it’s just a matter if it’s 2009 or 2010,” McCourt said. “And I think everybody’s going to work as hard as they can to see if this is doable by 2009.”

Others were more certain.

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“We’ll be done, no doubt,” said HKS architect Morris Stein.

“It’s doable, absolutely,” said project manager Tom Harrison of M.A. Mortenson Co.

Harrison will provide a more definitive answer Dec. 17, the day his company will put a construction schedule and final price tag in writing. The Dodgers will determine then whether to break their ties with Vero Beach.

HKS Architecture’s design calls for a 10,000-seat stadium, with 3,000 additional lawn seats.

There are also plans for 12 practice fields, including a replica of the field at Dodger Stadium and one of the White Sox’s regular-season home, U.S. Cellular Field. Drawings were unveiled at the ceremony, which was emceed by Dodgers announcer Vin Scully. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano was among the guests.

McCourt said he had plans for the complex to serve as headquarters of the Dodgers’ minor league operations and a year-round campus where players can receive instruction.

For the White Sox to move into the complex with the Dodgers, they will need to find a team to replace them at their current spring facility in Tucson.

“We’re very optimistic,” White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said.

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Also looking for a replacement team is Vero Beach, according to Indian River County Administrator Joe Baird.

Baird said he has had preliminary discussions with other clubs, but he can’t move forward until the Dodgers make definite their plans to leave.

Baird also is displeased by the Dodgers’ tentative itinerary for this spring, which has them leaving Vero Beach in mid-March to play exhibitions in China and Taiwan, and completing training in Phoenix. The Dodgers would leave a split squad in Vero Beach, but Baird said that isn’t enough.

“I don’t think what they’re doing is fair for our community,” he said.

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But McCourt said the idea of finishing training in Arizona came up because of concerns raised by the players’ union. “They felt it was too much travel” to go from Florida to Asia and back to Florida, he said.

McCourt said the Dodgers have started looking into the availability of Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the spring home of the Oakland Athletics. The A’s will vacate the facility early to play a two-game season-opening series in Japan.

McCourt wouldn’t comment on speculation that newly hired coach Don Mattingly will be groomed to be the Dodgers’ next manager, but said the organization will implement a succession plan for when Joe Torre steps down.

“Quite frankly, that’s something that the Dodgers have lacked over the last couple of decades, having a long-term plan, a long-term strategy,” McCourt said.

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No decision was made about the use of instant replay at last week’s owners meetings, but McCourt said he was in favor of it. “I sort of take my cues from the general managers, who really have studied this issue,” he said. “They’re the ones who are closest to [the] issue so I support their recommendation.”

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com


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