In spring training, it is the manager?s job to prepare his players physically, mentally and fundamentally. To be physically prepared his players have to be in good shape. To be fundamentally prepared his players have to know the game. But to mentally prepare players for a 162-game season, as well as the playoffs, the manager has to convince his players that the only way they will win is to play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back. That they must play the game in an unselfish manner. That if all 25 guys on the roster got on one end of the rope and pulled they could pull all 29 other teams with them. But if half got on one end, and the other half got on the other end, then you can pull all day, but all you pull is against yourselves.
This year the Dodgers have one of the best managers in the game in Joe Torre. I?m not saying that because he?s Italian, I?m saying it because I?m Italian! All kidding aside, I say it because Torre knows how to prepare a team in the three ways I talked about. Just seeing him in the clubhouse this spring gives me great hope for the season. He and his coaches have been met with great respect, and when he talks, our players listen.
Although he has four World Series rings, what impresses the players most is his knowledge of the game, and how he puts players in a position to succeed. He is joined by an excellent coaching staff in Don Mattingly, Larry Bowa, Bob Schaeffer, Rick Honeycutt, Mariano Duncan and Kenny Howell. These guys don?t just give signs and hit fungo?s, they teach the fundamentals of the game. Just because Martin, Kemp, Ethier, Loney, Billingsley and Broxton are in the bigs doesn?t mean they stop learning the game. They have to work harder now than ever before, and it?s up to Torre?s coaches to help them learn.
Last Fall I spoke at 92nd Street Y in New York. Bob Costas was the moderator and he made a great comment. He said that the Dodgers have an Italian Hall of Famer, an Italian general manager and an Italian manager; now the Five Families are all happy.
Well I?m happy to have Joe Torre at the helm of the Dodgers. I look forward to an outstanding season, and how fitting would it be to raise that championship banner once again as we celebrate the Dodgers 50th anniversary of moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
As baseball?s Goodwill Ambassador I love visiting all types of ballparks. My travels take me throughout the Major League stadiums, to the minor league ballparks, to high school fields and even the occasional softball or little league field. I also go to many college baseball stadiums. In fact, every winter, I pick a few schools to speak to and help them raise money for their baseball programs.
Tonight I find myself speaking to LSU. Coach Paul Mainieri, who is one of my godsons, asked me to be the featured speaker at their Annual Baseball Banquet, and I was happy to accept. I accepted because Paul is an outstanding coach, but also because college baseball is a credit to the game and the programs can always use help raising money. You never see a college athletic program be sanctioned by the NCAA because of the baseball program breaking any rules. In fact, most of the time the coach or the players have to line their own fields and wash the BP balls so they don?t get too dirty.
When?s the last time you?ve seen a college football coach lining the field?
LSU won the National Championship in football and Coach Paul?s goal is to have his baseball team do the same. He is a fine coach, and I believe he can achieve his goal. He started as the head coach at St. Thomas University in Florida. From there he went to the Air Force Academy, then on to Notre Dame and now he is a Tiger.
I would also like congratulate Skip Bertman. He is the athletic director and has done an outstanding job representing LSU to the highest degree of class, dignity and character. He is also a good friend.
I am honored to be the featured speaker and I hope all of you LSU fans go out to support the Tigers this year.
If you aren?t a Tigers fan, that?s okay. Just make sure to support your college baseball program.
For those of you who don’t know Bobby Knight and I are good friends. When I heard the news that he has retired I wrote him the letter that I am sharing with you.
I invite your comments about Coach Knight, his career and his legacy.
Dear Coach Knight:
When I stepped down from managing the Dodgers for 20 years I was sure it was time to pass the reigns of my beloved team to someone else. I knew I had given every bit of energy, enthusiasm, desire and love in my heart to the Dodgers, and I was proud of my accomplishments. Although it was the hardest decision of my life, it turned out to be the correct one.
You have built a tremendous career at the University of Indiana, and at Texas Tech. As a basketball coach your record is second to none. However, what I respect more is your commitment to your players. Parents turned their youngsters over to you to turn them into young men. You insisted on them not only playing basketball, but on getting a good education. While your critics love to focus on your temper, they should give equal attention to the graduation rate of your players. You have molded lives, and for that contribution alone you should be respected.
I hope you enjoy your next step in life, whatever that may be. May God continue to bless you and your family with many more years of health and happiness.
Special Advisor to the Chairman
Los Angeles Dodgers
The 2008 Dodger Community Caravan is over.
The wheels on the bus have stopped rolling.
The cameras have stopped flashing.
And while fans will continue to ask for autographs and players will continue to give them, what?s really left is the affect the caravan has had on people?s lives.
Frank and Jamie McCourt have always insisted on the Dodgers being good community partners. Many athletes just take and take out of the pot and don?t do a good job of putting anything back in, but the Dodgers have always been so community-minded that we feel it is a pleasure to be able to give back to the people.
The caravan visited Children?s Hospital Los Angeles and the City of Hope, both of which are our partners in ThinkCure. While there, the players did a great job of visiting with the patients and trying their best to bring some joy and hope to those who really need it. I think the players also got a first-hand look at real courage. Hitting a baseball is one thing, battling for a pennant is another, but battling for your life and keeping a positive attitude is true strength.
We also visited two schools: John Marshall High School and Washington Accelerated Elementary. At both schools we delivered a very important message. We told the kids that playing baseball is great, but they are in school to get a good education. Education is something that nobody can take away from you. Education is something that can open many doors and build their future. A special thanks to the principals and teachers; you are my heroes.
We held a clinic at a Dodger Dream Field in Marina Del Rey and I hope the kids got a lot out of it. They had the opportunity to learn how to play baseball from big leaguers. When I was a kid I would have killed for an opportunity like that.
On the second day of the caravan we stopped for lunch at Panda Inn. While the food was great, watching the players act as waiters was outstanding. Penny, Nomar, James Loney and Andre Ethier were great as they took orders and served food to the hungry Dodger fans. Eric Karros, Bobby Castillo and Rudy Law did a good job too, and it was a pleasure to get to know Koruda-san, as he was on hand for the second day.
We also had two autograph stops. The first was at Yankee Doodles in Santa Monica. The second was at Universal CityWalk. Both were great, as fans lined up early in the day to get the autographs they wanted. What was really heart-warming was the support the fans showed the players. For the most part the fans were polite and appreciative, and the Dodgers hope the fans know how much we appreciate them.
I have said time and time again that this game does not belong to the owners. This game does not belong to the players. It belongs to the fans. You can have the best players and the finest ballpark, but if nobody goes through the turnstiles you have to shut the doors. We love the fans, we need the fans, and we truly appreciate their support.
A special thanks to the players who participated: Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, Takashi Saito, Jeff Kent, James Loney, Brad Penny, Nomar Garciaparra, Andre Etheir, Hiroki Koruda, Eric Karros, Bobby Castillo, Kenny Landreuax, Rudy Law, Fernando Valenzuela and Sweet Lou Johnson.
I’d also like to thank Jaime Jarrin, Charlie Steiner, Kim Ng, and Pepe Yniguez for participating, as well as Jeff Garcia of Power 106 for being our emcee during the second day of the caravan.