LOS ANGELES — Saturday was another beautiful winter day at Dodger Stadium, with temperatures reaching somewhere between 70 and 75 degrees and the sun shining through the few remaining clouds.
As he prepared to greet fans at the Los Angeles Dodgers’ annual FanFest, it didn’t take long for the highest-paid right-handed pitcher in baseball history to appreciate his new professional home.
“They do these everyplace,” said Zack Greinke, who signed a six-year, $147 million free-agent contract with the Dodgers. “This is different, though, because the weather is different. Every other place I’ve been, (they’ve) done it inside. In Milwaukee, it’s probably 10 degrees right now. This is great.”
The Dodgers fans thought so, too. A crowd estimated to be more than 25,000 showed up to meet their baseball heroes, collect a few autographs and shake hands with players on the most talked about team in baseball.
“It’s definitely fun to be here,” said All Star center fielder Matt Kemp, who’s continuing to rehabilitate from offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. “We’ve got a great turnout, and I’m excited about it. It’s really good to see the guys again. I miss ’em.”
Kemp had some good news for teammates, management and fans as he updated the condition of his left shoulder.
“I’ve been hitting, and I feel good,” said Kemp, who reported that he would face live pitching sometime next week. “It’s hard to say exactly where I am, but the shoulder feels good and it’s getting stronger, and I just have to keep building (the strength).
Manager Don Mattingly, hitting coach Mark McGwire, closer Brandon League, catcher A.J. Ellis, second baseman Mark Ellis and a number of other players joined Kemp and Greinke at the event. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, former manager and Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda along with Hall of Fame announcers Vin Scully and Jaime Jarrin also took part in the Q-and-A sessions.
Dodger team president Stan Kasten said the large turnout of fans suggests that they have accepted the ownership of Guggenheim Baseball Management with open arms.
“It’s very encouraging that the fans — before we’ve even won anything — have come out to support us,” Kasten said. “I think they believe that we’re on the right track, and we’re very appreciative of it.
“(Ownership) is trying to build a reputation that we mean what we say. When we took over, we said we were going to do a lot of things. And so far, we’ve come through on everything we promised. Now, sometimes we’ll be questioned about the decisions we make and if they work out or not, but we came in with a plan to put the Dodgers back on the top of the baseball world. I believe we’ve done our best to make it happen.”
They’ve put together a roster that will likely boast a $200 million payroll come Opening Day, putting a target on their backs and a ton of pressure on the players, manager and coaching staff. It’s win or else time for the Dodgers, which is exactly how Mattingly likes it.
“The dynamic (of this team) has definitely changed,” said the third-year manager, “and we know the expectations going into this year are huge. But if you don’t have those, you probably don’t have that great of a club. The more pressure means you have more talent and a better chance of winning. So, I’d much rather be in this situation than one where everything has to fall into place perfectly for us to win.”
Mattingly also addressed Hanley Ramirez’s place with the Dodgers, confirming that he’ll be the team’s starting shortstop, with Luis Cruz getting the first shot at third base. But the manager is a bit disappointed that Ramirez, who needs to regain his movement and timing at shortstop, will miss some of the spring because of his commitment to play DH for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.
“Obviously, you prefer him to be playing short every day in the WBC,” Mattingly said. “I’d feel a lot better about it if that was the case. But it’s hard to tell a player not to play for their country. So you’re kind of torn.
“Selfishly, I’d like Hanley to be in camp playing short every day, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily the right thing for him, us, his country or baseball as far as growing the game.”
If Ramirez can hold down the job at shortstop, Cruz will have to play himself out of the lineup. But the Dodgers are continuing to look for backups at third, with Scott Rolen’s name brought up often. The seven-time All Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner is a free agent and has expressed interest in joining the Dodgers, even in a reserve role.
“Ned has mentioned him to me,” Mattingly said. “He’s a gamer, a great teammate and, obviously, he can still do the job, even in a limited role. I like Scotty. Ned and I have talked, but it’s in Ned’s hands right now. I like (Rolen), so we’ll see where it goes from here.”