January 2008

In celebration of Jackie…

Today would have been Jackie Robinson’s 89th birthday and starting this year, we will be making January 31st an annual Dodger holiday to celebrate his legacy and teach young students of Los Angeles about his contributions to society. I think we’re very lucky to still have some of his former teammates and friends and family members with us today who can speak about him first-hand so be on the lookout for some great coverage of this in the coming day or so.

Also along the lines of making a contribution to society, we announced a new President yesterday for ThinkCure, our official charity. Janet Clayton will be working to establish this great cause throughout the city of Los Angeles and I think you’ll continue to hear more and more about it over time. Of course, for any of you going to the Coliseum game on March 29, you’ll see a presence of ThinkCure like never before, as proceeds from that game will benefit the charity.

Speaking of the Coliseum, tickets for that game go on sale this Saturday at 10 a.m. PT on dodgers.com. Three hours earlier, individual game tickets for Vero Beach Spring Training games will be on sale, so be sure to jump on these opportunities before they sell out.

As for baseball news, most of you have probably read that we re-signed Ramon Martinez to a minor league contract with a non-roster invitation. Also, I personally want to wish D.J. Houlton well with his new team in Japan.  This is a great opportunity for him and given that he would have had a tough time making this year’s team out of Spring Training, I’d love to see him dominate out there and come back to the big leagues a year from now. He’s a really, really good guy (recently married) who deserves nothing but the best.

And finally, two more non-roster invites are on board and both are from our minor league system. A.J. Ellis will be back in big league camp this spring, as will fellow catcher Gabriel Gutierrez.

A Wet Weekend

For those of you in Los Angeles, hope you stayed dry with all the rain that has been coming down. Fortunately, it stayed away on Saturday, allowing us to host our Select-a-Seat Weekend for Season Ticket holders and permitting Nomar and Mia to host their Celebrity Soccer Challenge at Home Depot Center.

I was at the soccer match and thought it was a really touching event. At halftime, they introduced three bone marrow transplant recipients to their donors for the first time and it was a really emotional moment. If you couldn’t make it and get registered to be a donor, you can visit this website to see how easy it is. As simple as a q-tip swab to the inside of your cheek and you  might able to save a life.

At the event, I ran into Mike Lieberthal (he was actually playing) and he "announced" his retirement to the media that was there. (Diamond Leung of the Press Enterprise broke the news, as he was blogging live from the seats!)

Mike said he’s known for quite some time that he wasn’t going to come back but wasn’t sure what protocal was so he just figured he’d wait until he saw our beat writers, which was Saturday. Though he didn’t play much last year, Mike was a classy guy and I’m glad he got to play for his hometown team before he hung them up. Same goes for Randy Wolf, who didn’t hang ’em up but was also at the game. You never know if he’ll get another chance to play for the Dodgers and it was a pleasure working with both of them.

If you missed the game, check out the photo gallery on the front of the site. Ned Colletti and Kim Ng both played and I’m hoping Ned is still able to move today, as he was throwing himself around the field like a 20-something-year-old.

Later Saturday night, I had the honor to go to the 58th Annual Golden Mike awards, which are given out by the Radio, TV News Association for broadcasting exellence. We went last year when Vin Scully received the Lifetime Achievement Award and this year it was Jaime Jarrin who was honored in that manner, as he enters his 50th season with the club.  It’s hard to even fathom, as he said in his speech, that someone could come to America with no money and without knowing a word of English and keep the same job for 50 years, eventually ending up in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Jaime is one of my mentors simply for the class he exhibits in everyday life and I couldn’t be happier for him and his family, who were all in attendance.

And finally, for those who missed the news over the weekend, Rafael Furcal’s eighth-inning, tie-breaking, game-winning homer gave the Aguilas a 2-1 victory for the Dominican League title. Furcal hit .361 with a .395 OBP during the regular season and then led all Dominican players during the round-robin tournament in RBI (15) and stolen bases (7). He was tied for the lead with three triples and second in the league with 27 hits. During the playoffs, he got on base at a .398 clip and posted a .440 slugging percentage.

Judging from those numbers, I’d say he’s back in playing shape and ready for position players to report in less than a month!

A pair of southpaws

Today we signed two more non-roster invitees to Spring Training and you will recognize both names. Mike Myers and the former Dodger, Tom Martin will both be coming to Spring Training. For Martin, this is his second time in camp as a non-roster guy and I still remember the first time he showed up at Dodgertown in the Spring of 2003. He was sitting at a table in the clubhouse and none of us had any idea who he was or what he was doing there. I was about to go over and ask him for his media credential when our clubhouse manager told me that he was a friend of Paul Shuey’s and he had just tried out for the team and made it. A hard-throwing lefty, he was going to be with us throughout camp.

By the end of the year, Martin had appeared in 80 games, the most ever by a Dodger left-hander and a record that stood until Joe Beimel broke it last season. He had a 3.53 ERA and has stayed in the bigs for the last three years, which is pretty cool.

On a different note, I caught up yesterday with a former colleague of mine from my days at MLB.com. Doug Miller, who used to cover the Angels in 2002 when I covered the Giants, has moved over to MLB.com/entertainment, which ties baseball and the entertainment world together. There’s some very interesting stuff there, including a blog that Doug is doing on MLBlogs, so check it out if you’re surfing the Internet and looking to keep yourself "entertained."

And finally, for those of you who didn’t get to see a piece of Tommy’s magic at the Kings game last night, be sure to read about it. You really have to see it to believe it sometimes.

The Coliseum…

For those who haven’t heard yet, we’re playing at game at the Coliseum on March 29 and earlier today, we did a walk-through (in the rain) so that we can get a sense of how it will all work from a media and broadcasting standpoint. All I can say is, this is going to be a really, really cool event and if you’re a Dodger fan and you’re in Los Angeles, you’d be crazy to miss it. Tickets will be as inexpensive as $1 for standing room only and it’s a game that I think is going to be talked about for years to come. Tickets go on sale Feb. 2, but you can sign up now to get the latest information about that game.

Speaking of tickets, some of you have inquired about tickets for the two "home games" that we’ll play in Arizona on March 20 and 22. Those will go on sale tomorrow on dodgers.com, so be sure to check that out, too.

For all you hockey fans, Tommy Lasorda will be the special guest of the Kings tonight when they host the Ducks at STAPLES Center at 7:30 p.m.

Tommy will drop the honorary puck prior to the game, and he will sit in the Kings TV broadcast booth the entire second period on FSN West with Bob Miller and Jim Fox.  In addition, he will be the guest on the “Kings Live” pre-game show, which begins at 7 p.m. and I think he might even be giving a pregame pep talk to the team.

China, here we come…

It’s official. We’ll be leaving for Beijing, China on March 11 with about half the team while the other half plays for about a week in Vero Beach. Then both teams will meet up in Arizona for the final six games of Spring Training, starting on March 20 before heading back to Los Angeles.

And in case you missed it, here’s the transcript from Ned Colletti’s web chat yesterday.

Mike Easler to join big league coaching staff…

Here’s a press release we’re sending out momentarily…

Former NL All-Star to replace Mattingly on Joe Torre’s staff

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Dodgers today named former National League All-Star Mike Easler as the hitting coach for the 2008 season. Dodger General Manager Ned Colletti made the announcement. Easler will replace Don Mattingly on Joe Torre’s staff, as Mattingly will shift to the role of Major League Special Assignment Coach for the 2008 season due to family reasons.

“Mike has enjoyed success as both a player and a coach in the Major Leagues and he’s extremely familiar with our players,” said Colletti. “This is an opportunity to promote a very talented individual from within the organization and we expect him to make a seamless transition to the Major League staff.”

Easler, 57, was the St. Louis Cardinals’ hitting coach from 1999-2001 and served in the same capacity for the Brewers (1992) and Red Sox (1993-94). He spent the last two seasons as a hitting coach in the Dodgers’ minor league system, first with Double-A Jacksonville in 2006 before being promoted to Triple-A Las Vegas prior to last season. In that role, he worked extensively with Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andy LaRoche, Tony Abreu, Delwyn Young and Chin-lung Hu, among other Dodger prospects.

The Cardinals reached the postseason in two of his three years as a hitting coach, ranking third in the NL with a .270 batting average and fifth in the league with a .339 on-base percentage and .441 slugging percentage in 2001, his last year as a big league coach.

During his 14-year Major League career, Easler played primarily in the outfield and posted a .293 average with 118 homers and 522 RBI with the Astros, Angels, Pirates, Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies. His best season came in 1984 when he finished sixth in the league with a .313 average while slugging 27 homers and 91 RBI in 156 games for Boston. He was named to the National League All-Star team with Pittsburgh in 1981.

The Cleveland, OH native was a member of the 1979 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates and served as a minor league manager and college baseball coach following his big league playing career.

Mattingly will remain employed by the Dodgers full-time in the role as a Major League Special Assignment Coach in 2008 and will assist with the Major League coaching staff during Spring Training as well as other duties throughout the season.

“I’m very grateful that the Dodgers have allowed me to take care of these family matters and I hope that everyone can respect our privacy during this time,” said Mattingly. “I truly appreciate the support of all Dodger fans since joining the organization and I look forward to helping the team win in 2008 and beyond.”

We're talkin' baseball

Over at DodgerThoughts, Jon Weisman succintly sums up the offseason for fans.

Today at 2 p.m. PT, you can ask Ned Colletti about all of these moves and more during a live web chat on dodgers.com. Remember, it starts at 2 p.m. but you can input questions about an hour early and generally speaking, the earlier they get into the hopper, the more likely they are to be answered. There are so many questions that come in every time we do this, it’s impossible to even see them all, let alone answer each one. But I know a lot of you are anxious to talk to Ned about this winter and this is a great chance to do so.

Meanwhile, early this morning Joe Torre hopped on a flight to China…I can’t tell you why, but, um, if you can’t figure it out, go ahead and Google Search Dodgers and China and see what comes up. It’s officially been deemed the worst-kept secret of the winter.

Dr. Martin Luther King

Hopefully most of you have today off from work, as we celebrate the memory and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The names of Jackie Robinson and Dr. King go hand in hand, but I was floored a couple years ago when Don Newcombe told me a story about him and Dr. King.

One night in 1968, only a few months before he was murdered, Dr. King was having dinner with Don Newcombe and he told him how much easier his job was because of the success of Jackie, Newk and Roy Campanella. The story is retold in the book "How to Be Like Jackie Robinson," with an exceprt found here.

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, take a moment to think about how your life and the lives of others have been affected by Dr. King and everyone involved in the civil rights movement.

The Proctor in in…

Another player signed, as the team avoided arbitration and signed Scott Proctor today, leaving only Joe Beimel to finish up among those eligible for arbitration.

Speaking of Proctor, I know a lot of you who read this blog are on the East Coast so here’s a cool opportunity to meet Scott, Joe Torre, Johnny Damon and others. Scott is hosting a Celebrity Ball on Feb. 1 in Florida, with the proceeds benefitting kids on the Treasure Coast (near Vero Beach) who have educational, medical, or financial needs. You can read more about it in this article that ran a few weeks ago. It’s always very cool when our players set up their own charitable events and this is one of them.

Otherwise, not much to report on a lazy Sunday morning. Football is in the air for just a little while longer and everyone knows what that means…Spring Training is around the corner.

Getting a workout…

We’re all staying really busy these days, which is why I haven’t posted daily. Today we opened up the Player Development Winter Workouts to the media and there should be plenty of stories, but the main bits of news were:

– Jason Schmidt has been throwing off a mound lightly and is doing well. We still won’t know where he’ll be come Vero, but there is definite optimism.

– Andy LaRoche and Nomar Garciaparra will head to spring neck-and-neck for the third base job. Ned said that Andy would more than likely have to play himself off the team and that he’s at the point in his development that Kemp and Loney were at this time last year.

– Ned said he’d leave the lineups up to Torre, but when Jon Weisman from CNNSI.com/Daily Variety/Dodger Thoughts asked if it is possible that on Opening Day, the outfield could be Jones, Kemp and Ethier, Ned said that it wouldn’t be out of the question.

Coverage is all over, including at dodgers.com and dodgerthoughts, while several of the newspapers will have stories in them tomorrow. 

Overall, it was nice to feel like it was baseball season again. After the workouts, I accompanied Ned to the KABC/ESPN Radio studios, where he went in-studio for an hour with Steve Mason and you can hear that interview at their podcast page. A couple fans called in and asked questions of Ned, and you can do the same during a live chat on Tuesday at 2 p.m.

Tomorrow, the workouts will be open again and we’re expecting Joe Torre will be there, so be on the lookout for more Dodger coverage around the same time as it showed up on the site today.