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Dodgers bid Vero a tearful farewell

VERO BEACH — His eyes red, his steps slow, Tom Lasorda waved to the fans for the final time at Dodgertown. Down in the rightfield corner, his players and coaches silently gathered and formed two lines.

They had their own way of helping him say goodbye to an old friend.

Crossing bats overhead in a sacred baseball tradition, they formed an arch to let Lasorda close this special place the Dodgers called their spring home for 60 years.

"These guys want me to cry," the Hall of Fame manager said.

He didn't, but chances are a few people in the overflow crowd did. Some stood in the bottom of the ninth, bidding farewell to their team as Los Angeles fell to the Astros 12-10.

So long, Dodgertown.

"We're going to leave, but we're not leaving our memories," Lasorda told them in a pregame address, pausing between sentences. Later, he reflected: "In all probability, I'll never be here again."

Set to move next year into an $80-million complex that they'll share with the White Sox in Glendale, Ariz., the Dodgers will take away more than a team from this town of 30,000.

In an era when spring training has become big business, this complex was more like baseball's petting zoo, where players were encouraged to chat with fans and sign their baseballs. To many visitors, Vero Beach was a true field of dreams.

"It is a special place," said former Dodgers ace Carl Erskine, who played the national anthem on his harmonica.

Eileen Conneely stopped to snap one last picture of the markers at Don Drysdale Drive and Vin Scully Way. She grew up going to games in Brooklyn and traveled from Long Island to see the finale.

"We came just for this day," she said.

"We missed closing day at Ebbets Field in 1957," husband Tom said.

TOKYO TRIP: Nonroster first baseman Mike Sweeney will make the trip to Japan with the Athletics this week, but outfielder Todd Linden was told he's staying in Arizona despite a strong spring and took it as a sign he won't make the club. "What kind of message is that supposed to portray to me after having a good spring? 'You have no shot,'  " Linden said.

The A's open the season March 25 with two games against the World Series champion Red Sox, who said that right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka will start the opener.

HAMPTON RECOVERING: Mike Hampton is back on track to open in the Braves rotation. The left-hander and former Crystal River standout allowed a run and two hits over 41/3 innings in a 4-2 loss to the Cardinals, 10 days after he left a start with a slight right groin pull.

BLUE JAYS: Closer B.J. Ryan, coming off reconstructive elbow surgery, pitched a scoreless inning for the second time. "I was sore and didn't feel as sharp as I was my first time out," he said. "But I made some good pitches and battled through it and put up a zero."

BREWERS: Left-hander Chris Capuano left the game in the fourth with pain in his left arm.

CARDINALS: Juan Gonzalez, 38, missed his seventh straight game. He had an MRI exam Friday for an abdominal injury and was waiting for it to be read by a specialist. … Right-hander Kyle Lohse threw 70 pitches and got 20 outs in a simulated game three days after signing a free-agent deal. His first spring start is set for Saturday.

MARLINS: Fan favorite Jeff Conine, 41, will sign a one-day contract March 28, then retire, MLB.com reported.

NATIONALS: Former Rays outfielder Elijah Dukes was scratched when his troublesome hamstring tightened up while he was running.

PHILLIES: Right-hander Chad Durbin kept his name in the mix for the fifth starter's job, allowing three runs on four hits in five innings, striking out one and walking two in a 6-4 win over the Indians.

YANKEES: Andy Pettitte allowed three runs and three hits in 31/3 pain-free innings during an 8-4 win over the Red Sox. The left-hander was scratched Wednesday with minor muscle irritation. And right-hander Joba Chamberlain said he expects to learn Wednesday whether he will start the season in the bullpen.

Best bet of the day

Rays at Phillies, 1:05 p.m., Bright House Field, Clearwater: It's the only game in town today, plus there's always the view from the tiki bar.

>>AREA TEAMS

Blue Jays: Knology Park, 373 Douglas Ave., Dunedin. Game tickets: (727)

733-9302 or bluejays.com.

Phillies: Bright House Field, 601 N Old Coachman Road, Clearwater. Game tickets: (727) 467-4457 or

phillies.com.

Yankees: Legends Field (1 Steinbrenner Drive in Tampa). Game tickets: (813) 879-2244 or

ticketmaster.com.

Dodgers bid Vero a tearful farewell 03/17/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 10:22pm]

    

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