Jerry Sands got a call at 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning, an automated call from the Johnston County (North Carolina) School District, seeing if he was available to substitute teach today. In about six weeks, Sands hopes for a similar call into Don Mattingly's office, whether it is to be a full-time or substitute player for the Dodgers.
"You don't come here not to be [a starter]." Sands said Thursday morning, his first day in camp at Camelback Ranch. "I want to be the starting left fielder or wherever they want to put me. It really doesn't matter what position, I just want to be in the big leagues, have a successful year, and help this team win."
Sands, like last year, was a substitute teacher in his home state of North Carolina during the winter, teaching at both Corinth-Holders High School and Archer's Lodge Middle School. He also taught hitting a little on the side. He just needs to remind himself to call and take his name off the substitute list so he doesn't get calls that wake him up early in the morning like Thursday.
"I enjoy being around kids, coaching and different things. Coaching is one thing I wanted to do growing up," said Sands. "I went to school for business, but I think I still could have found a way to be in a coaching role when I have kids."
Teaching was just part of a busy winter for Sands, who hit .253/.338/.389 with 15 doubles and four home runs in 61 games for the Dodgers last season, and had 29 home runs in 94 games in Triple A Albuquerque. Sands got married on November 19, then spent a month in the Dominican Republic, hitting .250/.325/.375 in 20 games with the Tigres de Licey in winter league ball, where he was teammates with 40-year old former Dodgers pitcher and water cooler destroyer Carlos Perez.
Sands said Perez was in something like his 20th year in the Dominican Winter League, and joked that management said of the pitcher, "We keep telling him not to come back, but every year he keeps showing up in the clubhouse."
When he got back to North Carolina in January, Sands began teaching again as a substitute through the start of February, though he didn't teach on days he had speed training, which was two to three times per week.
The question remains, is two to three times per week enough playing time for Sands to justify having him on the big league roster?
"There has to be enough at bats not to retard this guy's progress," Mattingly said. "This guy is going to be a player for me."
"If they gave me that spot, I wouldn't be mad at it," said Sands. "If they think I need to get more at-bats, then I'm going to go back and work hard to get back up here. But coming off the bench, I'm going to learn how to do that because I've never done it. I got a glimpse of it last year and it's a lot harder than it looks."
Like on Tuesday, Mattingly again stressed on Thursday that Sands doesn't need to be an everyday player to make the club, and he sounds like someone trying to talk himself into finding enough plate appearances for Sands to keep him with the big club. And Mattingly doesn't need much convincing.
"He gives us flexibility in our lineup, being able to go heavy right-handed on a real tough lefty, being able to use him in different ways," Mattingly said. "I feel like there's going to be enough at-bats for him, but we'll see."
Other Thursday notes:
- Clayton Kershaw is on schedule to pitch in his bullpen session on Friday, after missing yesterday. As far as his first spring start, the back tightness will not affect that. Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and Mattingly are working on a plan to keep Kershaw in line for opening day on April 5, and working backwards from there. Mattingly said he wanted Kershaw to be a part of the L.A. Sports Council Awards on March 15, where Kershaw will pick up the 2011 L.A. Sportsman of the Year Award. Pitching on normal four days rest, working backwards from opening day, Kershaw would start March 16, but it is unknown if he would pitch in Arizona the day after receiving an award in Los Angeles. Mattingly hasn't revealed his spring rotation order yet, but a plan for Kershaw to pitch on March 9, 14, 20, 26, and 31 could work.
- Mike MacDougal felt something in his back and had his Thursday bullpen session scrapped as a precaution. He was still able to participate in the regular workouts.
- In addition to Sands, Russ Mitchell also reported to camp today, four days before the reporting day. Position players in camp are Sands, Mitchell, Dee Gordon, Matt Kemp, and Tony Gwynn Jr.
- Right-handed pitcher Jose Ascanio failed his physical on Thursday and is no longer in Dodgers camp.
- The Dodgers claimed outfielder Matt Angle from the Baltimore Orioles, and placed Rubby De La Rosa on the 60-day disabled list to make room on the 40-man roster. With Ascanio gone and Angle added, there will be at 62 players (no net change) in big league camp once all position players report Monday.