On an overcast Tuesday morning, a crowd of 300 volunteers came out to clean the beach at Santa Monica Pier alongside their Los Angeles Dodgers heroes. Nearly every volunteer was dressed in Dodger gear and some came three hours early to meet Matt Kemp, Rafael Furcal, Steve Garvey, Fernando Valenzeula, Derrel Thomas, Sweet Lou Johnson, Shawn Green, Gabe Kapler, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Jay Gibbons. Despite the drizzle, everyone had a great time picking up trash, getting autographs and listening to the players tell stories of their exploits on the diamond.
The Dodgers visit, courtesy of team exec Howard Sunkin and owner Frank McCourt, marked a stop on a public service caravan around L.A. before the men in blue take off for spring training and the grapefruit league at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz. Howard introduced me to the players on the team bus and I felt a heckuva lot more nervous than I do testifying at city council. When Steve Garvey and Fernando came off the bus, I felt like I was in a time machine transported to my days as a teenager obsessed with the outcome of all 162 games on the schedule. After posing for a “team photo” right next to Fernando, I gathered up the nerve to tell the Dodger legend that I was there to watch him pitch as a 19-year-old call up in the September of 1980. Ever stoic, Valenzuela shook my hand and said nothing.
Then we walked across the sand to the sea of blue of Dodger fans in front of a standing microphone. I walked alongside former slugger Shawn Green and asked him some small-talk question about what he was up to now in the O.C. He answered politely. I always was a big Greenie fan. Star center fielder Matt Kemp took the long way to mic because he didn’t want to get his new black Nike kicks sandy. He soon got over that. Of course, Charlie Steiner emceed the event. Steiner remarked “it was a beautiful day for a ballgame” despite the gloomy drizzle. He introduced the entire Dodger lineup and then welcomed S.M. Mayor Richard Bloom and me. That’s right, I got an intro from Charlie Steiner. How cool is that!