I was at Camelback Ranch this past weekend and I came back far more amped about the team than I was before. This is my third straight year of doing a weekend trip to Glendale and the atmosphere was noticeably different. I heard there was an article (maybe in the LAT?) about how things are more laid-back in camp and how that is due to Don Mattingly. From my perspective, the biggest difference was the lack of Manny.
The last two springs, Manny was clearly the guy fans were obsessing over, coaches were protecting and players were looking for to make things happen. This year, the team has an opportunity to carve out its own identity and nobody embraced that opportunity more than Matt Kemp. He was having a blast the entire time, joking with teammates and, especially, fans. He was signing autographs everywhere he went, messing with kids, mugging for photographs and assuredly pissing off Jeff Kent, wherever he may be.
The lack of a Manny element also meant the fans' attentions were somewhat more split. While Kemp and Ethier were clearly the most popular choices for autographs and pictures, fans were more generally excited about all of the players. Most importantly, though, ALL of the players were signing and giving attention to the fans. Even the guys I want to hate were pleasant and chatty.
- Jerry Sands looked very good. He took clean swings, his power is for real, and he moves athletically on the basepaths and on defense. He was also extremely friendly.
- Dee Gordon signed a few autographs after Saturday's game. Trying to get off a little bit early, he remarked that he had to go hit the weight room. I showed great restraint by not agreeing vociferously. Dude is crazy skinny.
- Clayton Kershaw put on a clinic in his four innings. Not only did he strike out Votto (twice) and Bruce, he made them look like high schoolers in the process.
- Rod Barajas could not have been happier to be with the Dodgers. He really is living his dream. He used the terms "cloud nine" and "like a fairy tale" to describe it. The ridiculous amount of money is gravy to him.
- The two guys who signed the most begrudgingly were Jamey Carroll and Casey Blake. Ned likes that about them. It shows that they're gritty.
- On Sunday, after the bus left for their game, Andre Ethier stayed at least a good 30-40 minutes with some of the coaches (off the top of my head, I remember Dave Hansen, Mark Sweeney, Travis Barbary and Manny Mota were there) hitting. It appeared that they were working with him on driving the ball to all fields. Hansen in particular was giving him advice and he seemed to be responding well. I asked Sweeney about it afterwards and he said it was Dre's day to work and he was very happy with what he saw.
- After his workout, he made a point to hop off the golf cart where the fans were waiting and sign autographs and take pictures with everyone who was waiting for him. He signed for the kids (and ladies) first and was very businesslike about the whole thing, but still pleasant and accommodating.
- Kenley Jansen is a beast and Rubby De la Rosa is pretty big too. He's not Jansen-sized, but he is not the toothpick that the scouts seem to be describing. On a related note, Jansen conducts himself like a guy who is confident in his ability and fully expects to be a major contributor.
- Guys who looked uncomfortable on the field: Justin Sellers, Russell Mitchell, JD Closser (at 1B), Aaron Miles (he's clearly pressing), Jamie Hoffmann, Roman Colon.
- Prospects who looked like they belong: Trayvon Robinson, Ivan DeJesus (defensively) and JERRY SANDS (he just hit another jack as I'm typing this).
I've mentioned autographs a couple of times because the players were just so approachable. The guys I got to sign cards: Kemp, Ethier, Barajas, Uribe, Carroll, Blake, Kershaw, Billingsley, Kuroda, Broxton, Jansen, Gordon, Redding, Schlichting, DeJesus, Miles, Kapler, Paul, Hoffmann and Velez, plus coaches Stubbs, Honeycutt, Hansen and Sweeney. Plus I got a blank card signed by TBLA faves Rubby, Sands and Trayvon. I don't tend to like to have players sign things just to have things only cards or photos, so I didn't have a few of the guys sign anything even though they were doing so happily.