VERO BEACH, Fla. -- With the Los Angeles Dodgers now under new ownership, Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax made his first public appearance at the club's spring training facility on Friday since severing ties with the team last year.
"The reason for not coming is definitely in the past," Koufax said before the team's exhibition game with the Atlanta Braves.
Koufax was a frequent visitor to spring training before a New York Post gossip column item appeared to question Koufax's sexuality without mentioning the pitcher by name.
The item ran in the Post on Dec. 19, 2002, when both the newspaper and the Dodgers were owned by News Corp. Boston real estate developer Frank McCourt purchased the team in January.
"There was a reason," Koufax said, "but it's over and done with. It doesn't mean anything anymore. It's a non-story."
Koufax had visited Dodgertown on at least a couple of occasions this spring to meet team physician Frank Jobe after tearing his calf muscle during a pickup basketball game.
But Friday's visit marked the first time he was seen by the fans. He called his visit "no big deal."
"I come out here to see friends," he said. "That's all I'm doing."
Koufax visited with Braves manager Bobby Cox. He also talked to Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, Dodgers pitching coach Jim Colborn and Dodgers minor-league instructor Rick Honeycutt.
Then he went into the Dodgers' clubhouse.
"It was terrific," manager Jim Tracy said. "You're talking about, as far as I'm concerned, the greatest left-hander who ever pitched in this game.
"What's kind of intriguing about it all is when you see some of those young kids go around the corner and see him standing there, just to observe some of the expressions on their face. I know what mine was like the first time I got to meet him in person. It's wonderful to have him back."
Koufax said he has spoken with McCourt and his wife once since they announced plans to buy the Dodgers.
"They seem like very nice people," he said. "They want good things to happen. It doesn't happen overnight. It's a process."
Koufax hasn't worked for the Dodgers officially since serving as a roving pitching instructor 12 years ago. But he frequently visited Dodgertown and tutored pitchers until the newspaper item ran.
He was noncommittal about whether he might help out again.
"If somebody asks -- a pitching coach or player -- sure it might happen," he said. "But understand, I haven't been working here for a long time. I just come out to see people I know."
Koufax won three Cy Young Awards, pitched four no-hitters and helped the Dodgers win four World Series championships before retiring in 1966.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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