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Friday, May 30, 2008
REPORTING FROM ... THE VISITORS CLUBHOUSE AT SHEA


"Gimme back my number, rook."
You can't break up the 9.

I know this because a veteran just yelled it at a rookie, but I have no idea what it means. "If you multiply nine by anything, you can add up those two resulting digits and get nine," said Mark Sweeney, the Dodgers' unofficial mathematician. "The number 54 is part of that system, and I can't believe it's not good enough for him."

The him in question is Clayton Kershaw, a freshly minted 20-year-old southpaw whose meteoric rise to the majors is so mythical he was recently nicknamed the Minotaur. But the seven Cardinals he K'd in his stellar debut on Sunday was not enough to keep him from breaking up the nine. Two hours before the first pitch of the opening game of the Dodgers last-ever series at Shea Stadium, the crimson-faced, floppy-haired, definitely still-growing Kershaw traded in his #54 for #22, a number that belonged to his childhood idol Will Clark, and, until five minutes ago, Sweeney. "Shouldn't I be getting a watch or something?" Sweeney asked the four Dodger beat writers on the trip. "Can you guys check and see what kind of a signing bonus he got?"

A seasoned vet surrendering his jersey to a first-year player is somewhat unheard of, but so is a young lefty strikeout pitcher with a plus fastball and devastating curve. "I hope he wears this uniform for twenty years," said Sweeney. "And that he gets me some good tickets."

A couple feet away, third-year outfielder Matt Kemp and rookie 3B Blake DeWitt are standing next to each other at their respective lockers. DeWitt is gripping a new Louisville slugger, and Kemp is hollering about a 22-pitch at-bat. "Everybody drop what you're doing and come watch this!" he says, about a University of Florida softball player who has fouled off 19 consecutive pitches in the National Championship game. "Oh my God, this is crazy!" DeWitt nods stoically and spits tobacco into an empty plastic bottle. For a kid who wasn't invited to major league camp in spring training but is now third amongst NL rooks in runs, homeruns, RBI, DeWitt has won many fans in the locker room with his white-hot start and his blue-collar work ethic. Said Matt Kemp: "Most guys would be happy just to be up here, but this dude works so hard in the cage every single day. You've got your Rookie of the Year right here." (DeWitt would go on to homer roughly four hours and thirty-six minutes later).

The Dodger brass must have thought the team's whopping total of three runs scored in the series vs. the Cubs earlier this week was more mental than physical, because they canceled batting practice in favor of a closed-door meeting. No word on what was discussed, but I can report that a cart with 13 pizzas from a local parlor was delivered to the visiting clubhouse around 6 p.m. That number proved to be unlucky: the Dodgers went on to lose their fourth straight. Perhaps if they had ordered 18 or 36 or 72…