Dodgers, fans welcome a new era
There was Mark Walter, the money man. There was Peter Guber, the part-owner of an NBA franchise now dipping his toes into another sport. There was Stan Kasten, giving interviews and glad-handing and renewing longtime acquaintances. And there was Magic Johnson, not on the field with most of the other members of Guggenheim Baseball Management during batting practice but still perfectly visible if you knew where to look, up in the suite-level seats down the left-field line in front of the Dodgers' offices.
And then, a few minutes before the Los Angeles Dodgers would celebrate their first home game in front of their new owners with a resounding, 9-1 victory over the archrival San Francisco Giants before 43,713 on Monday night at Dodger Stadium, there was Magic again, flanked by Rachel Robinson, whom he had personally invited for the occasion, and Dodgers legend Don Newcombe. The three of them walked together to the mound so Magic could deliver a most symbolic of ceremonial first pitches, followed by a most symbolic and most enthusiastic announcement over the public-address system that it was, indeed, "time for Dodger baseball."
Compare and contrast all of this, if you will, to the past year or so, when the guy who used to own the Dodgers stayed as hidden from view as he possibly could on his inexorable march out the door. Frank McCourt has passed through that door now, and he can stay hidden from view forever as far as anyone around here is concerned.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the evening came in the sixth inning, or maybe it was the seventh or the eighth. At the end of one of those silly something-cam gags that they show on the video board in left field, which was accompanied by The Lovin' Spoonful's 1965 hit "Do You Believe in Magic," the camera panned to Johnson himself, seated in the front row of an owner's box McCourt hadn't really sat in in years, and the old yard immediately went bonkers.
And Magic, who at 6-feet-8 is hard to miss, stood up, turned around and waved to the entire ballpark. It was a wave that said hello, but also one that said goodbye, once and for all, to the McCourt era.
After the game, someone asked Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp if he was tempted to walk over and give Magic a high-five at some point during the game.
"No, but he was right by the on-deck circle," Kemp said. "I could probably give him a high-five whenever I want to."
True. But how many times did we see Kemp, or any other Dodgers player, giving a high-five or so much as acknowledging McCourt over the years, even back in the days when McCourt would actually sit down there?
"It was nice to hear," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of the noticeably rejuvenated atmosphere in the ballpark. "It was definitely positive. It has been positive, really, since the announcement [last Tuesday]. I think the fact Magic was here tonight, and Mark and all the guys, and seeing Mrs. Robinson, that was a really nice thing.
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"It is just a good feeling to kind of know that you're moving forward."
As Mattingly spoke, Kasten, the guy with the baseball background who will run the day-to-day operations of the franchise, stood in the back of his office, behind the thick flank of reporters and cameras and microphones, and listened. How many times did McCourt eavesdrop on his manager's postgame news conference in his eight-plus years as the owner? Honestly, it's tough to recall a single instance.
The game itself wasn't particularly pretty, the two teams combining to commit six errors, throw four wild pitches and commit a passed ball. But a win is a win, and even before this feel-good storyline took hold, the Dodgers (19-10) were amassing a surprising number of those this year, to the point they now lead the National League West by a full five games.
And besides, this one was tight most of the way, right up until the Dodgers blew it open with a five-run eighth, negating the need to use their newly appointed closer, Kenley Jansen, in the ninth inning. In the end, it was their newly appointed, eighth-inning setup man, right-hander Josh Lindblom, who summed up the evening perfectly, posting on his Twitter account about 45 minutes after the end of a game in which he had pitched a scoreless top of the eighth, thanks to a spectacular defensive play by first baseman James Loney that saved two runs.
That Lindblom tweet read as follows:
"#Dodger Stadium was pure electricity tonight! I had chills when @MagicJohnson said 'It's time for Dodger baseball!' @Dodgers"
Dodgers fans have been seeking a brighter future for just about as long as anyone around here can remember. That future has arrived, for better or worse. And the past has once and for all departed, for better or, well, just for better.