Don Mattingly says 2012 will be ‘Year of LA Kings, Dodgers’

Dodgers’ Don Mattingly at LA Kings game

Forget the fact that the Dodgers are about a dozen back with 50-something games remaining. Matt Kemp insisted to me on Friday night his club was still in the race.

They’ve gone 2-2 since then and to borrow a phrase Vin Scully has probably used, the season is slipping away like sand through an hour glass.

While Kemp’s optimism may be a breath of fresh air in what’s starting to look more and more like an otherwise forgettable baseball season in Los Angeles, manager Don Mattingly still has big plans…just not for this year.

Unlike Kemp, Mattingly claims he’s a bit of a hockey fan. “I’ve kind of slowly paid attention to things,” reflected Mattingly. He spends his winters back home in Indiana, where he claims “there’s not a whole lot of hockey going on.” So, you’ll have to excuse him when he says, “I still have trouble with all the names and everything. But, I love watching it.”

Pro athletes are always impressed with what hockey players do on a nightly basis.  Competing in a team sport is one thing, but doing it on skates adds a whole new level of complexity. “It’s pretty amazing what they do on the ice,” Mattingly expressed. “The toughness, I love. Those guys are so tough. Some of them never come out of a game.”

It’s not entirely surprising that Mattingly appreciates that aspect of hockey.  Nicknamed ‘Donnie Baseball,’ he probably would have made a great hockey player too, had he chose that route.  Simply put, he was a gamer and one of those ‘character’ guys Kings GM Dean Lombardi constantly seeks.

Similar to the Kings team, recently the Dodgers have had a healthy pool of prospects, including another player with a great nickname – Jerry Sands.  Here’s Mattingly on The Sandman – “He’ll probably be up, for sure in September he’ll be up.  For the most part, he was a guy who was up earlier than we thought he was going to be because we had injuries and things like that. It was a chance for him to gain some experience though. Basically, as he (went) down to work, he now has an understanding of what it’s like here. It should help him when he comes back.”

In another parallel to the Kings of the past few years, the Dodger defense seems to be there – yet, it’s the offense that might be holding them back. Recently, however, they seem to have heated up a bit, something Mattingly credits to good fundamentals.  “We’ve continued to get good pitching and that’s really what this game is based upon,” said Mattingly.  “That guy on the mound out there really controls the action. And our guys have been pretty good all year actually. Lately, we’ve been able to support them with some runs – getting some key hits, making that key play when you need to make it. Every game we play in is usually pretty close. You don’t really see us getting blown out. Our pitching keeps us in everything and it’s just a matter of if we’re going to make that key hit or make that key play.”

About the only piece missing from Mattingly’s resume is a championship. Despite having his number retired by the New York Yankees – the only team he ever played for – in 1997, he’s often referred to as the greatest Yankee to never have played in the World Series.

And while it would take a small miracle of sorts for this year’s Dodger team to even qualify for Major League Baseball’s post-season – there’s always next year, right?

Yes, says the rookie manager. In fact, he’s calling his shot early…with not only one championship, but a pair.

“2012 will be the year of the Dodgers and the Kings,” proclaimed Mattingly.

Ah, fans throughout Los Angeles can only hope.

NOTE:  Dodgers first baseman James Loney wants to play hockey with the Kings, see the link below for his MayorsManor interview.

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