In 2010 and 2011 we wrote several articles noting the parallel path the Kings and Dodgers were traveling. Both teams were being run by General Managers with ties to the Bay Area and were building from within, waiting to add a few key pieces from the outside when the time was right.
A race for who could claim a championship first was underway last season, with Dodgers manager Don Mattingly even telling MayorsManor that 2012 would be the Year for the Dodgers and Kings.’
Well, the hockey club did their part. So, is there any extra pressure on the Boys in Blue now?
“There’s always pressure,” said Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti when we spoke with him Thursday night. “I put pressure on myself. I want this thing to be successful. I want the fans to have a great time coming to the ballpark. I want them to see exciting baseball. So none of it’s really new to me. It’s all the same. I’m thrilled for the Kings. I’m thrilled for Dean Lombardi, who I’ve known a long time. And Darryl Sutter, who is a neighbor of mine. Great to see them achieve that. You know, Darryl and Dean have been in the game a long time and they’ve won their first Cup now. I’m very happy for them and hopefully we can follow suit. They’ll have a chance at number two though before we’ll get halfway through our season.”
Colletti is actually a bit of hockey fan and is friends with several people connected to the sport, including Penguins’ assistant coach Tony Granato. And even though it’s not his sport, Colletti was keeping close tabs on the Jarome Iginla trade talks this week.
“I actually talked to (Tony) Wednesday night,” Colletti revealed. “He told me he went to sleep before he knew he had the deal. I was checking online, and I saw he had the deal. So I called him this morning and said, ‘Way to play poker pal. You didn’t even tell your buddy you had the deal going?’ He said he didn’t even know. But, I think they’ve done great by adding three guys that are winners and gritty – in Morrow, and in Douglas Murray who I’ve watched a lot up north, and certainly with Iginla. It’s huge.”
One of the most fascinating aspects of Pittsburgh’s acquisition of Iginla was how a seemingly done deal with the Boston Bruins unraveled in mere hours – a situation Colletti could certainly empathize with.
“It can happen, especially when you’ve got a player with ‘no-trade’ rights,” he said. “Players always happen to change their mind, and you have to walk the line, keep it parallel. We had a player a couple years ago that had a right to veto a deal, but he didn’t even want to know where he was gonna go until we had a deal in place practically. So, that made it even more cumbersome. We had two different situations we could have sent him to. Both teams ended up in the post-season, but he opted to stay. Out of loyalty to the organization, he said, ‘You know, I really don’t want to go anywhere.’ When you have those clauses in there, it’s part of the dynamic of making a deal.”
Being a student of the game, so to speak, and always looking to have a possible leg up in any deals he’s involved with, Colletti admits to studying other sports as much as possible. You just never know where you might pick up a new idea or a different perspective on contracts and trades.
“I watch the NBA a little bit, the NFL a little bit. I watch the NHL quite a bit in the winter time, obviously. So, I’m pretty well versed with those guys. There’s probably a half dozen (NHL guys) that I speak to on a regular basis about all sorts of things, including new ways of doing things. As they’re going through their ups and downs of their season, most of the time we’re off and they’re on, and vice versa. I keep track of it and stay close on what other people are doing differently. I think you can learn a lot.”
With the 2013 MLB set to kick off in just a few days, Colletti is eager to get the games underway. At the same time, he explained the value of what Spring Training really provides, compared to what most people see it as.
“Spring Training isn’t always about who’s going to make the opening day roster. It is for a lot of people. For us it’s also about what kind of impression people leave. Once you get into a season we’re not going to have a chance – I will, but Don Mattingly and the coaching staff aren’t going to see the kids in Rancho Cucamonga play, or the kids in Albuquerque, or the kids in Chattanooga,” Colletti remarked. “So people set impressions. They leave the manager and coaching staff with different ideas. And then as the season goes on we get different reports, but the impressions that they set in spring can lead us to decisions as we get into the season…So, it has value to it far more than just whether or not you made one team or not.”
Which begged the question, what impression has red-hot prospect Yasiel Puig left?
“A great one, great first impression,” said the Dodgers’ GM. “It’ll be good for him to get to Chattanooga (AA) and play every day, something he really hasn’t done…It’s about more than your success in Spring Training. It’s about being ready to go every day and being mentally prepared to do it every day. Not that he can’t do it or won’t do it. He just hasn’t done it with us yet because he’s so young in a Major League Baseball organization.”
Then came the big reveal that many Dodger fans likely wanted to hear…
“As the season goes on, I’m pretty confident we’ll see him at some point in the big leagues,” Colletti continued. “In the meantime, he’ll learn the day-to-day routine. He’ll learn all sorts of routines to get himself prepared. You know, there’s still some fine points he needs to work on. He has great tools. There’s no debating the power he has or the arm he has, the speed he has or the passion he has. It’s been a great experience for him.”
Just like Lombardi’s views on Kings prospects, Colletti believes it’s important for kids to pay their dues in the minor leagues. It’s just part of the process.
“Absolutely,” he said. “And learning what it takes, you have to understand what it’s all about. It’s not just about three or four at bats, two or three fly balls, two or three throws in the course of a game, or running the bases. There’s so much more to it, and you gotta be ready for it. We play 162 games in 183 days. That’s a lot. And everybody we play is the best in the world at what they do. So it’s at a very high level. Spring Training is a great time. And it can create some interesting dynamics, and it can create some interest. But again, it is not the regular season…When you go from March 31st to April 1st, it’s more than just changing the calendar by a day. It’s a drastic change in how people play and how they prepare. But he’s done a lot of good stuff, and we’re excited that he’s been able to do it. Now it’s time for the next step.”
Not just for Puig, but for the Dodgers.
Now comes the real test.
Can the Dodgers do what the Kings have already done – bring a title to Los Angeles?
Who knows, maybe Colletti was on to something. The Kings might have two titles before his Dodgers even get the right to fight for one later this fall.
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