The Dodgers had their first off-season Fan Fest on Saturday and all involved were notably impressed by the turnout. The Dodgers had opened up the gates at 6:30 am and while the crowds were manageable prior to the fan fest opening, it became apparent that the cloudy weather did not dampen the spirit of those who came out to the stadium. Ticket sales were the main concern during the morning and it was announced that the tickets available for Opening Day and the Yankee series were sold out. Stan Kasten had been reported earlier in the week as saying the Dodgers had sold season tickets in the low 20 thousands, currently the figure hasn’t been announced but the Dodgers expect it to climb as the season gets closer.
The Fan Fest consisted of several games for youngsters, some merchandise sales and two different autograph areas. The autograph attraction was as nearly a big draw as the ticket sale as fans lined up at 6:30 to get a chance to get something signed by one of the players. The line for the autographs snaked throughout the parking lot and was the one thing mentioned by players as they arrived to the event.
Andre Ethier, who was among the first players to arrive, thought it was taking place at a different parking lot because he had seen so many fans lining up. Ethier also addressed the trade rumors and said he had received a text from Dodger chairman Mark Walter who reiterated how big a part he was of the Dodgers. Ethier said this and other conversations he had with the front office made it clear that the team wasn’t trying to deal him.
Ethier was also enthusiastic about the new season, not in small part due to additions made during the off-season. As Ethier’s autograph shift ended, Matt Kemp was arriving and the two longtime teammates shared some small talk before Kemp had to go take his turn. Ethier did add how difficult it was for him to keep up with the excitement that was building here in Los Angeles but his agent kept him informed of what was going on.
Mark Ellis was also excited by the enthusiasm by the fans, he had seen these types of events before in Oakland but this was something he thought was great to see. Ellis, when asked if he would be fine leading off, said, "I’ll bat anywhere but 10th." Mark was also not backing away from the expectations saying that they know they are expected to win and he welcomes the challenge.
Kemp was excited to hear about the new locker room. He was happy to see his teammates at the festival, he hadn’t seen most of them since the end of the season, he says you get that baseball feeling back and get ready for the grind. Kemp got a lot of fan reaction during his appearance on the main stage but at one point he was talking to Vin Scully and while Kemp might be the face of the current team, Scully remains the face of the franchise.
Vin Scully showed up in a suit jacket and mock turtleneck sweater (outside of Vin’s Spring Training appearances, I couldn’t recall seeing him without a tie) and immediately started saying hello to all backstage. Scully regaled the crowd with stories about famous home runs and other baseball treats. He was the only person to take the stage on his own and you are again reminded how he really wants to have that conversation with you the listener and no one else.
Nancy Bea Hefley played during the event and was informed during the event that she would be getting a new organ this year. She also said that they were thinking about adding a booth for her but she said no thanks.
Don Mattingly spoke to both the media and the fans during the event. Mattingly really enjoyed his Caravan experience (he had gone with many of the current players on Friday), he thought one of the things that made it special was the participation of the wives.
Mattingly wasn’t ready to really start breaking down his starting staff, he said he has 8 starters but with Chad and Ted coming back from injuries, he couldn’t pinpoint when he would start making decisions about who was starting and who was relieving. As he went through his roster, he did say while Luis Cruz would have the first shot at third base, he couldn't say he was totally comfortable with that being the only option there. It was reported that he confirmed an interest in Scott Rolen. Luis Cruz is very popular and certainly along with Adrian Gonzalez have appeal to local Mexican-American community but with both Cruz and Ramirez playing for their countries' WBC teams this spring, there will be opportunities for others to show Mattingly and his staff what they can do on the left side of the infield.
Mattingly said that he was fine with his contract situation and that the only thing that concerned him was any talk about his situation getting back to the players. Mattingly also mentioned that Zack Greinke had told him during their meeting while the free agent process was going on, that Chad Billingsley should drop the cutter. Mattingly laughed as this was something he and Rick Honeycutt had talked to Chad about for the last few seasons.
It could have been an oversight but Juan Uribe's name never came up.
Both of the Dodgers' multi-million pitching acquisitions came to the event. Written in pen for the number two spot, Zack Greinke met with the fans and the media. Greinke said he might go out even earlier to get to know his teammates. Greinke met Billingsley back at a high school showcase and thought he was fat but he later came to think he had a "solid base." Greinke thought there was only one year where people thought he was the ace of the staff. Greinke said one thing he has to do is not get down of himself if he felt he did everything he could to be ready to pitch. He said the first month with the Angels was the worst he ever pitched in his career. He said this game was the worst game he ever pitched in his life. He says he will meet with the pitching coach to go over what to work on this spring.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, who just arrived back in the U.S. a few days ago, came to the fan fest and signed autographs. While Ryu is penciled in as No. 3 starter, it appears that while Mattingly sees him on the starting staff, no one knows for sure how he will adapt.
A.J. Ellis, appearing just fine after knee surgery and the birth of his baby daughter, said he had received tapes of both Greinke and Ryu from the video crew so he could get an idea of how they pitch. He said he may work them little bit more with Zack, Ryu and J.P. Howell during Spring. He said it is basically a time for them to let him know how they want to pitch. Ellis said he had enough time with Beckett last year and both Beckett and Greinke will let him know how they want to pitch. When told that the rules regarding interpreters has changed (they can go out to the mound with a manager or pitching coach) Ellis said that was good since his Korean language CDs have not arrived yet. He said that baseball has a universal language and sometimes it is just a look or pat on the back to get something across.
Mark McGwire made his first appearance to the fans as the new hitting coach. McGwire spoke highly about Cardinal legend Stan Musial saying that his favorite moments were dinners he had with him where baseball wasn't the main topic. McGwire said that he would spend most of the first weeks of Spring Training just watching the players hit.
Kenley Jansen spoke about his health, saying that he was no longer on blood thinners and he was on track to begin spring training. Jansen first made his name as a catcher back during the last WBC in 2009. He threw out Willy Tavares trying to steal third in the 9th inning as the Netherlands defeated the Dominican Republic. Jansen said that the WBC showed off his big arm and in his mind, led to him being converted as a pitcher, which took place later that season.
Others there included HOF manager Tommy Lasorda, former Dodgers Fernando Valenzuela, Bill Russell, Kenny Landreaux and Ron Cey, pitchers Shawn Tolleson, Javy Guerra, Brandon League, Matt Guerrier, catcher Tim Federowicz, third base coach Tim Wallach and Dodger broadcasters HOF Jaime Jarrin, Charley Steiner, Gary Miller, Steve Lyons and David Vassegh.