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Dodgers Win Opener

O’Malley made several key introductions and gave the dedication message and followed that with the unveiling of a plaque for the stadium which read, “The Brooklyn Dodgers Dedicate Holman Stadium to Honor Bud L. Holman of the Friendly City of Vero Beach, Walter F. O’Malley, President, Emil H. Praeger, C.E., Designer, 1953.”
M.M. “Jack” Frost, Vice President of Eastern Air Lines, stood in for Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, President of Eastern Air Lines, and unveiled the plaque with O’Malley. Holman briefly responded to the honor and that was followed by a prayer from Rev. Ed Gabler of the Trinity Episcopal Church, flag raising ceremonies by the color guard from Felix Poppell Post, American Legion and the national anthem by the band.
In the first game at Holman Stadium, the Dodgers defeated the Athletics, 4-2. The Athletics, with their President Connie Mack in attendance, scored the first run in the top of the first inning, but Brooklyn bounced back with three runs in the bottom of the first. Right-handed pitcher Carl Erskine allowed just one run and four hits as the starter for the Dodgers, while center fielder Duke Snider drove in two runs in a three-run first inning for Brooklyn.
Erskine recollects, “I pitched the opening game and got the win. I have some home movies from that game. There’s a shot of Mr. (Bud) Holman and Mr. (Walter) O’Malley with the plaque dedicating the stadium. Someone took shots of me pitching from the bench, which was on the first base side back then. There’s even a picture of me getting a base hit. It was a big day.”33
Aesthetics of a stadium were always high on O’Malley’s list, whether in Brooklyn, Vero Beach or Los Angeles. As a horticulturist in his personal life, O’Malley found solace in getting away from his rigorous work schedule to grow orchids in his greenhouse in Amityville, NY. The use of color and landscaping in a stadium were important elements to O’Malley. A heart-shaped, man-made lake was built behind Holman Stadium, as a tribute to his beloved Kay. Later, her favorite saying came from the musical Damn Yankees, “You’ve gotta have heart.” O’Malley wanted something to enhance the setting of Holman Stadium, to remain as an on-going monument to the Vero Beach community for years to come. The answer became one of Holman Stadium’s most unique features. O’Malley dotted the outfield with Royal Palms, a landmark, of sorts, for the ballpark and an addition that grew in popularity over time. To honor her husband, Mary Louise Smith, the widow of O’Malley’s business partner John L. Smith, wrote a check to donate the cost of the 50 Royal Palm trees gracing Holman Stadium.34
From that first game at Holman Stadium, the entire Dodgertown site received rave reviews. The experiment to build a reasonably inexpensive stadium with modern amenities, through Capt. Praeger’s design, had worked to perfection. But, for the next four years, O’Malley’s focus shifted to the important task of finding a suitable site on which to build his masterpiece, a 50,000-seat domed stadium in Brooklyn.
The business of baseball interfered with O’Malley’s grand opening of Holman Stadium. According to the Vero Beach Press-Journal on March 26, 1953, “It was at the dedication game that Lou Perini, owner of the Boston Braves found Ford Frick, Warren Giles, Will Harridge and Walter F. O’Malley, all members of baseball’s executive committee. It now can be told. The five men missed the Athletics-Dodgers game. They left the stadium after the dedication ceremonies and held a meeting. Their discussion on Wednesday afternoon, March 11, laid the groundwork for the moving of the Braves from Boston to Milwaukee.”35

33 Dodger Spring Training Yearbook, 2002, Vero Beach Dodgers
34 Frank McGrath, Fall River, Mass., Herald News Sports, March 19, 1954
35 Bob Curzon, Vero Beach Press-Journal, March 26, 1953

Walter O’Malley and Connie Mack, Philadelphia Athletics owner and longtime former Manager Connie Mack exchange pleasantries at the Holman Stadium dedication on March 11, 1953.

The heart-shaped lake behind Holman Stadium is a tribute to Kay O’Malley from her husband. An enthusiastic baseball fan, Kay kept score of every Dodger game.

Walter O’Malley observes one of many beautiful palm trees on the Dodgertown property.

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