Sure there was a baseball game today in Scottsdale, but the talk of the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch on Wednesday was the new Dodgers ownership group. There are six members of Guggenheim Baseball Partners LLC, but the one that created all the buzz in the locker room was Magic Johnson.
"The brand of the Dodgers was hard to put a price tag on. It's pretty subjective," said Chris Capuano. "There are a lot of people that are happy that Magic's group ended up getting it. He's such an iconic figure. From business people to sports fans, they were all rooting for that."
Manager Don Mattingly grew up in Indiana, and saw Johnson's Michigan State team beat Larry Bird and Indiana State in the 1979 NCAA Championship Game. "Magic is my nemesis," joked Mattingly, who also said today was good for the franchise.
"If I'm a player, I'm excited that Magic is coming in," Mattingly said. "They've been having to deal with all the negative. Obviously, as soon as you hear the name Magic Johnson, it turns it into a positive. It's positive energy around our ball club, and around the city."
While Mattingly joked about his potential new boss, Andre Ethier went the other way and tried to impress his new boss, saying with a smile, "I've always been a big Michigan State fan, and I never liked Larry Bird too much."
Matt Kemp said today was a great day for the Dodgers organization and joked that he wore Converse shoes today because those were the shoes that Magic used to wear.
"He knows what the Dodgers mean to LA. Of course Magic is real important to LA, and the fans love him. To get him to be a part of the Los Angeles Dodgers is a great day for the organization," Kemp said. "All I'm thinking about is being in the on-deck circle and sitting in one of those owner's seats."
Perhaps the most ecstatic about the news was Tony Gwynn Jr., who called himself the biggest Lakers fan in the world, and said he couldn't wait to meet Magic.
"Other than my grandparents passing away the saddest moment of my life was watching that press conference when [Magic] retired," said Gwynn, who was nine on November 7, 1991, and bedridden with asthma at the time. "The fact that he's now my boss is pretty cool if you ask me."
"From the time he contracted HIV until now, he has accomplished so much more than just being a basketball player. He's a fixture," Gwynn added.
The sentiment among the team was that fans will return to Dodger Stadium because Magic is now here, and Frank McCourt will soon be gone.
"Magic is enthusiastic and optimistic. You always want to have it packed [at Dodger Stadium]," James Loney said. "It's a different atmosphere when it's sold out or close to sold out, like a playoff game"
"People are going to come out and see the Dodgers, because now they don't have a bad feeling about anybody," said longtime manager Tommy Lasorda. "That's what caused the fans to stay away.".
There may have been more basketball talk than actual baseball talk today, and naturally the question that came up often was, could a Dodger beat Magic Johnson, now 52, in basketball. Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon both said they would beat Magic, a topic that was hotly debated in the press room for part of the day.
The question of which NBA player was better, Magic or Michael Jordan, came up even more often. Most declined to answer, a strong hint that Jordan was their pick, but Chicago Bulls fan Jerry Hairston Jr. was not shy about stating his preference for Jordan.
The best response came from Lasorda, who laughed at the question and said, "This is a baseball interview, not a basketball interview." But Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times pleaded, "A lot of people want to know your opinion, Tommy."
Lasorda's response: "A lot of people wanted to know my opinion of Kingman, too. And I gave them my opinion."
The group of reporters, and Lasorda, erupted in laughter. It was that kind of day around the Dodgers. With Magic Johnson, it's impossible not to smile.
WP -Yusmeiro Petit (1-0): 5 IP, 4 hits, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts
LP - Nathan Eovaldi (1-1): 5 IP, 3 hits, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts