SAN DIEGO With the team ownership situation extremely close to be resolved, Dodgers players are hoping they can put the trauma of 2011 behind them and just concentrate on 2012.
Not likely to happen. Not yet, anyway.
Not when a group including Los Angeles icon Earvin "Magic" Johnson is the new ownership team in waiting. And not when embattled, and still current, owner Frank McCourt takes to the road and joins you at Petco Park for Opening Day.
McCourt, who agreed to sell the team to the Guggenheim Baseball Group for 2.15 billion dollars late last month, met with the team prior to its 5-3 win over the San Diego Padres on Thursday.
Manager Don Mattingly said that McCourt was just there to say hello to the players and wish them good luck. No speeches or pep talks. Just a smiling McCourt shaking hands with his players. While some in the clubhouse have privately expressed frustration about the controversy which has engulfed the Dodgers in the last year, center fielder Matt Kemp isn't one of them.
After McCourt signed the NL MVP runner-up to a 160 million contract in the offseason, Kemp on Thursday would only praise his owner.
"My thoughts about Frank are never going to change," Kemp said. "I've always thought of him as a good guy, as somebody I could talk to. His office doors were always open to me and he always respected me as a man.
"For him, it's an unfortunate situation, but hopefully he moves on to bigger and better things. I wish him nothing but good luck in everything he has going on in his life."
But while ownership may change, Kemps game has not, if one game is any indication. Kemp paced the Dodgers offense on Thursday, getting a pair of hits, including a two-run home run to right field in the eighth, and driving in three runs.
Kemp was the Dodger on-field leader last year, batting .324 with 39 home runs, 126 RBI and 40 stolen bases. He also developed a leadership presence in the clubhouse, becoming along with Mattingly the team spokesman in the roughest moments of the McCourt situation.
Kemp, who attends Laker games whenever he's in town during the offseason, was noticeably happy upon hearing that Johnson was going to be in attendance. In a somewhat bizarre scene, Magic was sitting with McCourt in seats just to the left of the Dodgers' dugout Thursday.
"Wow, what a strange day," Kemp said after the game with a smile on his face. "Magic was sitting right by our dugout . . .it was good to see him. Hopefully we can get some more wins with him around."
Talking to a reporter as he exited the clubhouse with McCourt, Johnson said "this is a great way to start. It's going to be fun." He declined to talk about the sale or the pending approval of the bankruptcy judge, expected later this month.
It was definitely a fun day for the visitors, even as 2011 CY Young winner Clayton Kershaw was the victim of a stomach flu, insisting he take the mound and then battling through three scoreless innings, allowing two hits while striking out three. He did work his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the third, blowing a strike past the stunned Padres' third baseman, Chase Headley. He also got the games first hit in the third inning.
The Dodgers got to Padres starter Edinson Volquez in the fourth inning, when singles by Kemp and Juan Rivera and a walk to right fielder Andre Ethier filled the bases. Volquez proceeded to lose the strike zone, walking James Loney and A.J. Ellis to force in the first two runs. The Dodgers added three more runs courtesy of Kemp, driving in Dee Gordon in the fifth before the eighth-inning blast off reliever Brad Brach that turned out to be the difference in the game.
Overall it was great way to start the season, Kemp said. "One down, 161 more wins to go," Kemp yelled to his teammates as he accepted congratulations in the clubhouse following the win.
"It's such a great feeling to know that we're playing games (that count), games that get your adrenalin going a lot. It's great to be back out there on the field, knowing that the game means something.
"I have (complete) faith in our team that we're going to make the playoffs, and then do what it takes to go as far as we can. The only thing that will hold us back is ourselves. If we continue to do our jobs and everyone fills their roll, everything is going to be good.
"We'll definitely be one of those last teams standing when the season is over with."
NOTES: Josh Lindblom, who beat out Scott Rice for the final roster spot, earned the win. He relieved Kershaw and pitched two scoreless, hitless innings with one strikeout . . . Mattingly said Kershaw went as far as he could before finally calling it a night. He was spotted resting on a trainer's table after the game . . . Cameron Maybin hit a 445-foot, two-run shot to left off Dodger reliever Kenley Jansen in the eighth, tying Matt Holiday for the seventh-longest home run ever hit at Petco Park . . . Chad Billingsley goes Friday night for the Dodgers against the Padres Cory Luebke.