Lasorda's stint as manager ends
Dodgers legend, team on cusp of new era in Cactus League
JUPITER, Fla. -- Tommy Lasorda made a lap around the visitors' clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium on Tuesday, shaking hands with every Dodgers player and coach in his path. This was not goodbye -- Lasorda will still spend most of the season surrounded by the Dodgers. But the look in his blue eyes made it clear that an ending had arrived.
"It was great," Lasorda said. "Really great."
Now, it's over. As Lasorda spoke, buses idled outside the clubhouse walls, ready to ship the Dodgers off to a new home, a new league and a new era. Lasorda was ready for this day -- he was only filling in so that regular manager Joe Torre could take half the team to China -- but still, he couldn't fight the melancholy of knowing that he may never manage again.
That's why Lasorda had reason to soak in every last moment of this day. For one week, the men surrounding him weren't just Dodgers. They were his Dodgers.
"A lot of them just wanted to say that they played for me," Lasorda said. "When you're a Hall of Fame manager, it makes a big difference."
Really, this was just a quirk. Having a legendary manager come back to lead the Dodgers was a noteworthy diversion from reality, and helped create a fitting end for Dodgertown. Yet, in the end, it was still just a diversion -- along with so much of this month.
Torre's half of the Dodgers traveled across the world last week, scaling the Great Wall of China and serving as ambassadors for their game and their nation. Lasorda's half stayed back in Florida, closing the doors to baseball's most famous Spring Training site and helping sweep away an era's worth of memories and tradition.
In between, both halves played a little baseball.
That afterthought shifted back to the forefront on Tuesday, when the Dodgers beat the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium, then drove a few miles down the coast before jetting out of Florida on a chartered plane bound for Arizona. There, none of China's diversions can interfere. There, none of Dodgertown's memories can distract.
"It's just the end of the first phase," Dodgers bench coach Bob Schaefer said. "That's the way I look at it. Hopefully, everybody will be in one piece when we get out of here, and when we get on with phase two, we'll get our team all together to play as a unit and get ready for the season.
With so much focus on China and Dodgertown, it's been difficult for the team to look ahead to what's next. They've been playing games featuring Minor Leaguers and non-roster invitees -- "Some guys have made a very good impression," Schaefer said -- but those makeshift rosters have done little to help the team feel whole. That's the first task for the Dodgers in Arizona, where they still have nearly two weeks' worth of Cactus League games to play, beginning Thursday at a temporary site in Phoenix.
The new home has its benefits. Schaefer, who spent years in the Cactus League while coaching with the Royals, said he couldn't wait for the efficiency of Arizona. With Spring Training sites packed so closely together, there's less time needed for travel -- and more time available to train. Outfielder Juan Pierre also spent springs in the Cactus League with the Cubs and Rockies, and lauded it for the same reasons.
Some of his teammates even had their own selfish motives.
"No more humidity," second baseman Delwyn Young said with a smile. "I can't promise the wind will be better, but that's not a bad place to be."
What's most important, however -- and what's become a bit hidden over the past week -- is a return to baseball. The Dodgers still must select a fifth starter to round out their rotation. They still must name an Opening Day starter, too. There are jobs to be won at the back of the bullpen, just as there are jobs to be won at the end of the bench.
Those issues will all become clearer in Arizona, where the focus will finally be on baseball, and nothing else. But for Lasorda, this next part of this journey -- Schaefer's Phase 2 -- is nothing less than a trip to the unknown.
"I try to think of what it's going to be like," Lasorda said, "but I can't see a clear picture."
Hours later, all he needed to do was glance out his plane window to see the desert ahead of him, and -- looking back -- to see Dodgertown far behind.
"When you say goodbye, a lot of times it's not really goodbye," Lasorda said. "It's, 'See you soon,' or, 'So long.' But when we said goodbye there -- it was goodbye.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.