Holiday tour stokes growing enthusiasm in LA

Underneath brooding skies that gave way to occasional downpours, the only blue to be found at Westfield Century City on Tuesday was on the jackets, sweatshirts and jerseys of the hundreds of fans who lined up to get autographs and photos with Tommy Lasorda, Steve Yeager and Justin Sellers at the latest stop of the Dodgers Holiday Tour of Southern California.

Lasorda didn’t seem particularly affected by the damp surroundings as he hummed Christmas carols while signing baseballs for fans that waited up to two and a half hours in a line that snaked around the mall’s movie theater and upscale eateries.

For Culver City’s Rolando Bell, who shares Lasorda’s birthday of Sept. 22, Friday’s caravan stop was a major priority in his week.

“Called in sick to work today,” he admitted, and if there’s anyone that we’d hope doesn’t have bookmarked, it’s Rolando’s boss.

Bell also shared a popular sentiment amongst the fans at Friday’s event – that Luis Cruz should be considered the full-time curator of third base.

“I like Cruz,” said Ken Bordignon of Santa Barbara, one of several Cruz admirers interviewed Friday. “He’s hardworking.”

If he were to be the opening-day third baseman, the 28-year old journeyman who hit .297 in 296 at bats would continue to fulfill the unexpected and sentimental ascension that is as sweet as a Tommy Lasorda-sung Christmas Carol to the ears of Dodgers public relations. After two years of noxious gases emanating from the owner’s office during the downfall of the McCourt regime, a cult figure who elicits the union of 56,000 “CRUUUUUUUZ”-chanting fans serves as assistance in the attempt to drive attendance back up to the levels of the record setting 2005-09 years.

But if there is a position to upgrade on the roster of this suddenly cavernous-pocketed franchise, that position will most certainly be upgraded. The starting pitching needs a shot in the arm more than any other position and is in current talks with Zach Greinke, who would command a record contract for a Dodger pitcher. The team has also “won” the bidding to negotiate with agent Scott Boras for South Korean left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin.

Supported by a payroll that is almost certain to rise above 200 million dollars – the team already has over $198 million committed to its players in 2013, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, there will be extraordinary pressure placed upon this Dodgers team by an excited fanbase looking for a response to the San Francisco Giants’ second World Series title in three years.

“They should be excited. We built up a great team,” Lasorda said Friday. “If they all play up to theircapabilities, then we should win. We’ve got payroll – it’s awesome, and we’ve acquired good players,and if they play like they’re supposed to…”

Lasorda trailed off at the end of the suggestion, implying the possibilities surrounding the sheer abundance of on-paper talent that will head to Camelback Ranch in two and a half months.

Of course, on paper, Cruz was once a .221 hitter in 154 career at bats.

Performances like his, and the ability to watch Clayton Kershaw, and a potential outfield of Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier has the potential to drive attendance back to mid-2000’s levels.The Dodgers drew 3,324,246 fans to Chavez Ravine in 2012, an increase of 389,107 tickets sold.

Though the team doesn’t provide sales numbers, Senior Director of Ticket Sales David Siegel expects enthusiasm to continue to rise, which is partly a byproduct of the winter caravan tour.

“We’re thrilled with the fan support and excitement through the first three stops of the Dodgers Mall Tour. The first few months after the season are historically our slower months, but our sales in November have been the strongest in my 17 years with the club and based on that interest, I expect the momentum to continue throughout the offseason.”

Then again, the fans that waited through several hours of steady rain on a weekday afternoon are those naturally predisposed to leaking a little Dodger enthusiasm.

Barbara Jaeckin of Santa Clarita, an enthusiast of the 1981 World Series-winning club who fondly recalled Yeager’s acting cameo in Major League, didn’t hesitate when asked if she had any questions surrounding the team when it takes the field on opening day, 2013.

“Can I get a ticket?” she answered.