Make no mistake about it, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti is a baseball guy. Heck, his job demands it. However, there’s no denying his ties to NHL hockey as well.
Back in March, Colletti shared some stories with us here about his friendship with Tony Granato, the Jarome Iginla trade, his relationship with Kings GM Dean Lombardi and much more.
Following batting practice last night at Dodger Stadium, Jon Rosen and I were sitting in the Dodger dugout comparing notes before a few Kings players arrived for the pre-game festivities. Eventually, we ended up having a three-way conversation with Colletti – the first part of which Rosen has posted here.
One of the topics I was most interested to talk with Colletti about was former Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke. When Burke was recently announced as joining the Calgary Flames front office, among the many names he mentioned during his press conference was that of Colletti. There, in a hockey-crazed market, among a myriad of puck-related questions and answers, it was the baseball GM’s name - and later referenced as one of Burke’s advisors on the matter – that stood really stood out.
Of course, like most hockey conversations with Colletti, things eventually turned back to the Kings. He’s been a frequent visitor to games at Staples Center the past few years and often drops by the team’s training facility in El Segundo.
During their Cup run in 2012, he made sure to attend at least one game each series – which was challenging, considering baseball season was in full swing. Sadly though, he was at Game 4 in the Stanley Cup Final and missed out on the celebratory atmosphere of Game 6.
But, back to the relationship with Burke. Just how did Colletti end up as one of the key people Burke sought council from prior to joining the Flames as President of Hockey Operations?
“We’re great friends,” Colletti began. “When we were playing in Toronto back in July, after the All-Star break, he and I had about a three or four hour breakfast/lunch with Vance Lovelace [Vice President of Player Personnel for the Dodgers]. We talked about a lot of different things and he was thinking about different opportunities that have presented itself in hockey. It’s a relatively new position in the NHL, we do have some organizations in baseball that have that type of arrangement [a GM and President of Hockey Ops]. I said that where he’s at in his career, I thought it would be a great a opportunity for him. He kept thinking about it and I was surprised that he said something the other day [about our talks], and I encourage him to really look at it as a great opportunity. Not only in a great hockey city like Calgary, but to have a bit of a different view – a bit of a different role. The job, compared to when I first started in the game, the GM jobs in any sport are so different than they were. There’s so much more to it and the more support you can get and the more good people you have around you, the better your chance of success is. There is a lot more to worry about today than there was 30-something years ago.”
Like his pal Lombardi, Colletti has had to transform himself from being part of the Northern California sports scene to a true Angeleno. Yet, switching allegiances from the hated Giants to his now beloved Dodgers occurred rather quickly.
“It didn’t take me very long at all,” remarked the 59-year old executive. “I’m very competitive and when I sign up for something, I sign up completely committed to it. I’ve always been in the National League. I’ve been in the National League West for probably now about 17, 18 years. Maybe more than that. So I’ve been coming to this stadium for a long, long time. I knew a lot of the people who were working here, I knew a lot of the players who were here. Once I learned my way around town a little bit differently than coming from a team hotel – that was probably the toughest adjustment I had was getting to know the city and getting to know where I was going. Because if you get on the right highway here, you can be in another city before you know it.”
In previous conversations with MayorsManor, Colletti had also mentioned how easy it is to talk with somebody like Lombardi – noting that even though they’re managers from different sports, they often face comparable challenges. He also sees the similarities between the two sports extend to the players.
“I think we have a number of guys, I do,” Colletti remarked, when asked if any of his Dodger players have a hockey mentality. “When I think about a player, I do think about that once in awhile. Because you have to be very tough-minded to be successful in the NHL – specially when you’re playing in April, May, and June. You have to really be tough-minded. I think we have a number of guys here – if I say five, I’ll be leaving off the sixth. I do look at that in the character of the guys. They might not have ever been on skates or ever thought about playing one game, even street hockey. But again, you look for that type of mentality because I think it’s a winning mentality.”
One Dodger in particular, Jerry Hairston, shares Colletti’s love for hockey. In fact, during the NHL playoffs last season, the Dodger utility man often placed a Blackhawks jersey in his locker at Chavez Ravine. So, how did that sit with Colletti, who was theoretically cheering for the Kings?
“I grew up in Chicago,” he said. “You know what I do, I really root for people. At this stage of my hockey watching, I root for people. I have a lot of people throughout the NHL and I root for them to be successful and do well. When the Kings and the Hawks played this past year, I rooted for a great series. I rooted for no bad injuries and a great series. I can’t root for teams when I have friends on both.”
Something tells me if the Kings and Penguins were ever to meet in the Stanley Cup Final, Granato would expect his old buddy to be rooting for Pittsburgh. But, we’ll hold that thought until such time it’s needed.
Besides his obvious interest in sports, one of Colletti’s other passions happens to be cowboy boots.
Among his vast collection, what’s his favorite pair, and how about the most expensive pair?
“Actually my favorite pair are my most expensive pair,” he shared. “But I didn’t buy them, they were a gift from a former player who is now deceased and was a great scout – Ted Uhlaender. [He] got me a pair of Ostrich boots about 10 years ago and I wear them on special occasions. They’re my favorite pair because of really where they came from. Teddy was a dear friend, a great baseball man, a great guy. He took the time – he was based out of Colorado, so when they were in there playing the Rockies, he said ‘Hey, I got something for you.’ He drove a truck, drove a pick-up truck to the game. Was a typical hard-nosed, great guy. He gave me a pair of Ostrich boots that day. And they are the most expensive, but they were free that day. They came from friendship.”
Colletti and his network of friends. It seems to be a never-ending network.
Should his high-octane Dodger ballclub manage to win the World Series later this fall, his circle of friends is likely to expand once again.
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