VERO BEACH — Not counting some fantasy camps and umpiring schools, baseball on Saturday will make its first return to Dodgertown since the Dodgers departed for Arizona in 2008.The RussMatt baseball tournament will rotate 60 college and high school teams through the facility starting Saturday at noon at Holman Stadium when Essex Community College (Maryland) takes on St. Lawrence (Quebec).
Of course, that is weather permitting. Friday’s forecast calls for overnight lows in the mid 30s and a 70 percent chance of rain in the afternoon on Saturday.The final figures are yet to be tallied, but officials at the Treasure Coast Sports Commission, which is helping to promote the event, estimate the teams and their staffs will generate about 3,000 room nights at Dodgertown and in hotels throughout the county. Those figures do not include rooms that will be booked by friends and family, who will travel with the team to take in the games.Officials estimate when all is said and done RussMatt could infuse as much as $2 million into the local economy by the time the tournaments end on April 9.For Vice President of Minor League Baseball Craig Callan, Russmatt is the first and biggest piece of a jigsaw puzzle of events he wants to bring to the facility to keep it operational year round.Minor League Baseball took over the lease and expense of running Dodgertown on Jan. 1 of this year and is looking at baseball, soccer, softball, youth tournaments, even lacrosse to keep the facility, including the conference center, buzzing with activity.While some may miss the luster of having a major league team to call your own, there is something to be said for the course Callan has chosen.Winter Haven lost the Cleveland Indians to Arizona the same time the Dodgers departed Vero Beach and last year they hosted the RussMatt Tournament in their place. According to figures released by Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing the tournament brought in between $20 and $24 million last year, which helped offset the $25 million the Indians were estimated to have generated if they had been in town.That tournament was much larger than the Dodgertown event, with 215 college baseball teams playing 807 games played at two complexes within the county.