By Eric Neel
Page 2

People hate the Dodgers.

They're not the least bit shy about it either. They tell you about it like they're compelled to share, like they're eager to testify.

"Don Drysdale was an over-rated thug, you know that, right?"

"What's with the beach balls? You feel good about the beach balls?"

"I never liked Orel Hershiser; too snooty. And nice hair on Sutton; you gotta be proud of that."

And they're always wanting to tell you stories, like Chris Farley talking to Scorcese:

"Remember that one game, when the pennant was on the line, and Brian Johnson hit that home run and killed you guys? Remember that? That was awesome!"

There's more talk about universal contempt for the Yankees, sure, but Dodger loathing runs almost as deep and wide (anywhere outside LA and far too many places inside of it, too).

Chalk it up to lingering bad feelings about the bolt out of Brooklyn, to resentment of the sun and surf, or to a unifying contempt for every shticky word out of Tommy Lasorda's mouth over the years.

Whatever. I'm good with it.

I know if I wear the colors I draw the ire.

That's the way it always is.

But this year's different. This year, folks are especially loud and specific about their contempt.

Paul DePodesta's an idiot, J.D. Drew's an injury waiting to happen, Milton Bradley's a time bomb, Jeff Kent's a club-footed, claw-handed malcontent with a bad mustache, Derek Lowe cost too much and he can't pitch his way out of a sack, Hee Seop Choi couldn't carry Shawn Green's jock, and Adrian Beltre's about to win an MVP award ... for another team, ya bum.

I'm reading this stuff all over the mainstream press, I'm seeing it on TV, I'm hearing it from the kid packing my groceries at the market, from the moms and dads pushing swings next to me at the neighborhood park, and from the mail carrier in a Giants cap standing on my doorstep.

And here's my thing: Bring it on.

It's not that I'm drunk on the Paulie D Kool-Aid. I've got questions about the infield defense, just like everyone else, and the starting pitching makes me nervous (Lowe's strikeout and walk rates don't inspire confidence, and just the words "nerve injury" and "Brad Penny" make me wanna hurl). And I'll be honest, there's a hole in my heart and my scorecard where Beltre (who, I felt like, us Dodgers fans raised up from a pup like Joy raised Elsa once upon a time) used to be.

Do I take some comfort in the fact that the team, at least potentially, added offense at first base, second base, and in right field? I do. Am I heartened by the flexible, inexpensive (after Gagne), and very effective bullpen, or by what I read from stats analyst Tom Meagher suggesting Kent is a lot better defensively than people think? I am. Do the upward-trending numbers from defensive wizard Cesar Izturis cheer me? Indeed. Am I one of those wide-eyed innocents who actually believe Bradley's figuring some things out, and think Drew, if he's healthy, is going to be very, very good with both the bat and the glove? Yes, sir. Am I emboldened by the 6-2 start, complete with four wins over the Giants? You know I am.

But none of that is enough. It's not that I know it's all going to work out.

It's that I don't know, and more to the point, it's that everyone else is so sure that it won't.

That's what makes the season special. Contempt for the club – for the whole Moneyball thing, and for DePodesta in particular (from other writers, pundits and fans) – is perfect-storming over LA. The Dodger experiment is laid out, naked on the table, with everyone gathered 'round, offering opinions, taking odds, and taking shots.

Couldn't be any better. I relish the vulnerability of it all, the high-stakes, town-square, flapping-in-the-wind feel of rooting for this club right now.

On Opening Day, when Jose Valentin made a throwing error and cost the club the game, I got a call from an old Giants friend. "Settle in," he said. "It's going to be like this all year. You're doomed to relive moments like this."

I want that call. It's my edge. The bilious smackdowns and constant mocking are second only to the sweet song of Vin Scully when it comes to making me fully faithful and true Blue.

If things come together and they win the division I'm going to dance the most righteous, giddy, Blue-breasted dance I ever danced on the heads of their rivals and doubters.

If they blow up or fall short, I'm going to take a brutal, Blue beating from all comers and all corners.

Either way, I'm good.

I felt this way in the fall of '88, when everyone figured the Mets to roll over Orel and company. I felt this way the night of Game 1 of that year's World Series, when Bob Costas said Gibby wasn't going to play and the Dodgers were dead.

Maybe I've got no reason to think this year's going to end the way that one did.

But I've got every reason to say, Bring it on.

So I'm going to say it.

Not like Travis Bickle but like Tripper Harrison.

Bring it on!

NOTES FROM ERIC'S SCORECARD

Opening Day
According to the schedule, the season began on April 3 with a game between the Red Sox and Yankees. But around our house the official start came a week later, when 3-year-old T looked up at a broadcast of the A's-Rays game and said, "Look Daddy, Eric Chavez is back!"

I don't deserve her.

A player I wish I had on my fantasy team, for some reason other than the numbers ...
Scott Kazmir, SP, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (0-0, 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)

The name is nice, with echoes of heavy Zeppelin chords rattling around in it, but the real appeal for me comes in thinking about Mets fans dialing up Mike and the Mad Dog every time he throws a strike.

"Steve from Queens, you're on with Mike and the Mad Dog."

"We could have had this kid, we should have had this kid, this kid's a Famer, anyone can see that! Victor Zambrano? For Victor Zambrano!"

"All right, thanks for your call, now let's go to Tony from Brooklyn."

"I swear to god, I want to – Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep – every time I see him pitch."

Zambrano could put up better numbers in the long run and I don't think it would matter. Kazmir's an emblem, the patron saint of getting hosed.

Crooked number of the week
13.

That's the number of RBI Eric Hinske has through his first 30 ABs. Brian Roberts' four home runs and 1.322 OPS are just as wild, but Hinske's numbers come sprinkled with redemption dust.

The Jays brought in two third basemen in the offseason (Corey Koskie and Shea Hillenbrand) because Hinske had slid off his 2002 ROY campaign like Vinko Bogataj coming down the ramp.

It wasn't going to be enough for him to have a solid start, or even a good start, he needed to go off like firecrackers on the 4th.

Boom.

On the bookshelf
"Total Ballclubs: The Ultimate Book of Baseball Teams" by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella (Sport Classic Books).

A paperback (bless you for the lighter load, oh good people at Sport Classic Books) volume full of chapter-length histories of all 124 teams that have competed in major league baseball (going back to 1871).

Great stories and bits of trivia throughout – fans busting into Ebbets Field with a telephone-pole battering ram, the Indianapolis Hoosiers winning a pennant in their only year of existence, Walter O'Malley preventing Bill Veeck from owning the Angels, a Bill Singer-for-Ron Guidry trade the Blue Jays arranged in 1977 that was called off because Singer was the cover boy for their new media guide – and overall, a sense of how teams evolve, in fits and starts (or of how they shrivel up and die), of how and why teams thrive (smart management, good scouting, and lots of money do the trick every time), and of the legacies that underwrite what we see on the field in the here and now.

Terrific stuff. One of those books you can't believe wasn't already out there. Completely addictive reading.

Stance of the week
Norihiro Nakamura, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers

If Jerry Lewis were playing the lead in the "Sadaharu Oh Story," this is what he'd look like at the plate.

Eric Neel is a columnist for Page 2.



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BLEEDING DODGER BLUE