- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The schedule for the Los Angeles Dodgers' annual community caravan, which the club announced on Wednesday, has a dramatically different look from years past.
This year, in an effort to make the event more convenient for the players who participate, it will be held about two weeks later than usual on Feb. 14-15, the final two days before pitchers and catchers are due to report to spring training in Glendale, Ariz. Additionally, the club has scrapped the public rally/autograph signing that traditionally came at the end of each day of the event and was usually held at a high-profile site such as Universal CityWalk.
Instead, the only events open to the public this year will be a pair of community cleanup projects. The first will be a Los Angeles River Cleanup at 10 a.m. PT on Feb. 14, and the second will be a "Heal the Bay" cleanup at Santa Monica Beach. Fans interested in participating must pre-register, as there are limited spots available (250 for the L.A. River project, 750 for Heal the Bay). Information on how to register can be found at www.dodgers.com/community.
"We decided to focus more on community service and give people a chance to still interact with the team, just not necessarily in the form of a rally," said Josh Rawitch, the Dodgers' vice president for communications.
Rawitch pointed out that rather than a brief encounter with a player sitting behind a table signing autographs, the new format would give fans a chance to actually interact more with players and work with them over a period of time, with each cleanup scheduled for 90 minutes.
In keeping with tradition, the schedule also includes a full slate of private events each day. Those events will be highlighted by a visit to Los Angeles Fire Department Station 3 on Tuesday, during which the LAFD will donate a retired (but still fully functional) fire truck to Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal's hometown of Loma de Cabrera, Dominican Republic, a town that presently doesn't have a fire truck.
The schedule also includes a lunch with employees of USC University Hospital; a session with students participating in LACER, a program that provides after-school activities for underserved middle- and high-school youth, at Thomas Starr King Middle School; an appearance on the "Lopez Tonight" show with George Lopez; a visit to the Los Angeles Police Department's West Valley station; a surprise visit with the baseball and softball teams at an unnamed high school; and a Dodgers Dreamfield Dedication Ceremony at Northridge Recreation Center.
Rawitch said the unusually late dates of this year's caravan had resulted in increased player participation because players who live in other parts of the country can come to the event on their way to spring training rather than making a separate trip just for the caravan.
"Basically, we got feedback from a lot of players saying that if we make it closer to the time they report, it's easier for them to go straight from here to [spring training]," Rawitch said. "We have great player turnout this year, and guys are genuinely excited about being a part of it."
New Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, first baseman James Loney and right fielder Andre Ethier all have committed to participating in the first day of the event, along with Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda and a host of former Dodgers players. Furcal, center fielder Matt Kemp and outfielders Tony Gwynn Jr., Jay Gibbons and Gabe Kapler all will take part in the second day, again with several former Dodgers players including Fernando Valenzuela and Don Newcombe.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.