LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers' new ownership group is far from shy, that much we learned Wednesday morning at their introductory news conference at Dodger Stadium.
Team president and CEO Stan Kasten wanted fans to know he's a baseball guy, through and through. Chairman Magic Johnson made his feelings about former owner Frank McCourt known, telling those gathered in center field and those watching on television that McCourt's departure was reason enough for applause. And Mark Walter, chief executive and the controlling partner of Guggenheim Baseball Management, defended the group's enormous purchase price.
They made some bold statements and said all the right things. They promised to restore pride in a franchise that last captured a World Series title nearly 24 years ago.
Based on what the partners said Wednesday, here are a few things Dodgers fans can expect:
Johnson, Kasten and Walter each stressed the importance of improving the fan experience, a not-so-subtle hint at last year's parking lot incident that left Giants fan Bryan Stow beaten to a coma. Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves, wants a friendlier ballpark. He suggested that, later this season, current Dodgers will greet fans at entrances while in full uniform. Is there a more welcoming image than Matt Kemp scanning a fan's ticket stub at the turnstile? "What's important to us and what's important to our fans is the building of this team, the customer experience and our work in community relations," Kasten said. "Frank McCourt has nothing to do with any of those things."
As for the 50-year-old ballpark, Kasten anticipates "near-term" improvements to the outdated power, water and information systems. Before taking the reins Kasten hosted a group of a dozen engineers to survey the stadium, giving him ideas for future enhancements, including renovations to the notoriously cramped clubhouses. Kasten says there are no plans to move the team out of Dodger Stadium or change the ballpark's name.
To the joy of many, Johnson announced a price reduction in general parking, from $15 to $10. Kasten, meanwhile, said he had a "constructive conversation" with a concessionaire last week and, for now, doesn't anticipate the need to raise prices elsewhere. "We're very mindful that we become very successful when we fill this ballpark up," Kasten said. "We know affordability is a big factor in people's mind."
Don't be surprised if the Dodgers are soon back in the top five of baseball's payroll rankings (currently they are 12th). By all indications, the new owners will be aggressive on the operations front, spending money when they have to. They want to contend now. "We're not going to pass up any opportunity, we're not going to wait for 25 kids to grow into their uniform," Kasten said. Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda agreed, saying, "If you don't (spend money) you're not going to win. You've got to be able to compete and to be able to compete, you're going to have to be able to put out money."