VERO BEACH — In weather more fitting for football than baseball, America’s pastime returned to Dodgertown on Saturday.Despite the frigid temperatures and only a handful of people in the stands, once dark Dodgertown had ballplayers with major league dreams once again on the grounds getting ready for their upcoming seasons on the college and high school circuit.The first competitive game since the Dodgers and Rays left for other opportunities in 2008 took place at Holman Stadium starting at noon when host St. Lawrence (Quebec) took on Essex Community College (Maryland). With temperatures in the 50s and a wind chill making it seem more like the 40s, the players — many in short sleeves — ignored the light sprinkles and played with chilly enthusiasm. Most of the Essex players stood throughout the game leaning on the fence that separates the dugout from the field and looking every bit the way their major league counterparts did on a bright March spring training afternoon.However, the sparse crowd was a reminder that this is a different game being played now. The crack of the bat has given way to the clank of its aluminum equivalent that college rules allow.But it is still baseball and it was enough to get Leroy Spoor of Sebastian to don his cold weather gear and get out to the ballyard. He didn’t have a relative on the field just a love of the game, no matter who was playing.”I used to come out to watch the Dodgers and I am just glad to have baseball back again,” he said.The RussMatt baseball tournament will host 60 college and high school teams through April 9 and could bring in as much as $2 million in tourist dollars to the county. Local officials estimate about 3,000 room nights will be booked just for the visiting teams.For this game Quebec has been staying at the Dodgertown complex, but Essex has been based in Fort Lauderdale as it plays games throughout Florida to get ready for the upcoming season.Part of the attraction for locals of the RussMatt Tournament is not only the teams coming to play baseball, but their family members who will visit to get a break from weather up north.If Saturday was any indication, families may be on a tighter budget this year. There were more people on hand with a Florida connection to the team than Maryland. There was no one from Canada at the game.”Last year a lot more families came down,” said June Laidler, who came from Jacksonville to watch her son Ricky play, along with his grandmother and father.For Dave Williams of Wilson Point, Md., cold weather is relative. The Mid-Atlantic region has been hit by a wave of winter storms leaving the area under a blanket of snow.”After four weeks of playing in a gym, they are just happy to be out playing,” he said.
For a complete list of participating teams and schedule of games visit www.russmattbaseball.com.