Baseball rhubarb at old Dodgertown

VERO BEACH — A simmering dispute between Minor League Baseball and the county administration was symbolized Tuesday by the blue tarps now covering the Vero Beach Sports Village signs.

Whether the dispute could result in the eventual abandonment of the facility by Minor League Baseball, which claims it lost more than $1 million on the complex last year, is unknown.

Right now, however, MiLB President Pat O'Conner said he is going to "keep plugging along." He said the organization is excited about the University of South Florida Bulls coming back to the facility for pre-season football camp. At the same time, O'Conner said he was "not going to continue to be taken advantage of by the county administration."

The latest dispute with the county has to do with the $50,000 cost of the Vero Beach Sports Village signs. O'Conner believes he is entitled to compensation for the money spent for the signs as a capital improvement.

"I just decided if they were not going to reimburse us I was going to cover them up," said O'Conner.

Indian River County Administrator Joe Baird said the contract allowed so much for branding of the facility. Baird said Budget Director Jason Brown and County Attorney Alan Polackwich looked at the contract to see if money allocated for renewal and replacement could be used to pay or the signs, but it was determined that could not be done.

O'Conner said the county has been responsible for delays in making other improvements at the facility, including the installation of lights at the practice fields, and had also hampered the organization in attracting business there, although he declinded to get into specifics.

"I've done a lot of things for that county and that facility and I don't appreciate the way we've been treated," said O'Conner.

He was specifically critical of the county administration, including Baird, Polackwich, and Brown. He also was critical of County Commissioner Peter O'Bryan, who was one of the prime movers in having Minor League Baseball take over the facility originally.

"He has had a chance to support us and he hasn't," O'Conner said about O'Bryan.

Earlier this year, MiLB had difficulty in reaching a deal with the county in regard to the construction of a cloverleaf of multi-purpose fields to be used for softball and Little League Baseball. The fields were expected to help MiLB attract business during the summer months, but they have not been built.

O'Conner said MiLB baseball is on track to lose about $500,000 in operating the facility this year following last year's $1 million dollar loss.

County officials have said before that it costs them about $100,000 a month to maintain the facility when it was shuttered between the time the Los Angeles Dodgers left and MiLB came in. O'Conner estimated it would have cost the county about $3 million to continue to maintain the facility if MiLB had not stepped in to run it.

Other than O'Bryan, O'Conner said he gets along with the rest of the County Commission. He said Commission Chairman Bob Solari, in particular, has been very forthright even though they may have taken different positions on some issues.

"Solari is easy to deal with because you know where he is coming from," said O'Conner.

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