Sandy Koufax revels in his roots as he comes to help Dodgers bloom

The greatest living Dodger sets spring training camp abuzz as he returns to work. 'I'd like to see this organization be a winner again.... I thought, if I can help, it would be fun,' Koufax says.

PHOENIX

— Shortly after noon Sunday, a black SUV pulled up at the front door of Camelback Ranch amid the breathless aura of a royal homecoming.

Two Dodgers employees were waiting on the curb. Several others were staring out from inside the main building.

Out of the car stepped a wiry, deeply tanned white-haired man wearing black sweat pants and a long-sleeve white shirt. He took off his sunglasses to reveal bright eyes over a huge smile, and here came the whispers.

''He's really 77? He's really coming to work here again? He really looks like he could still pitch!''

Sandy Koufax, the greatest living Dodger, was officially returning to work for the only baseball home he's ever known.

"I'd like to see this organization be a winner again,'' Koufax said. ''I don't know if I can do that much, but I'm going to try and help.''

The intensely private former pitcher arrived at spring training to begin a two-week stint as a pitching instructor as part of a one-year contract that will put him back in a Dodgers uniform for the first time in more than 20 years.

On a clear and sunny day in the desert, chills were everywhere.

When Koufax walked from the main building to a practice field in his sweats, the camp buzz became a dull roar as a couple of hundred fans rushed the ropes to welcome him. When he stepped onto the grass toward the pitching mound, Clayton Kershaw hugged him. When he began supervising pickoff plays with several pitchers, most of the folks in camp had turned to watch.

Nearby, Dodgers marketing boss Lon Rosen was speaking on the phone to Dodgers partner Magic Johnson.

"Earvin, I've got to go," he said. "Somebody more famous than you just showed up."

After a short session in which Koufax actually mimicked a pitching motion — fans murmuring at the sight — he signed a couple of dozen autographs and briefly stopped to answer some questions.

Such as, why? And why now?

"I have no idea," Koufax said with a laugh. "It just sounded like it could be fun . The people who own this team look like they're trying to make it better. I thought, if I can help, it would be fun."

Koufax was offered the spot last summer by Rosen and team President Stan Kasten in an impromptu meeting in a suite during a game at Dodger Stadium. The new Dodgers ownership is eager to reconnect with former Dodgers legends, and was hoping that Koufax would be willing to sacrifice some of his beloved privacy to bring his baseball life full circle.

Said Rosen: "We want to honor and celebrate the Dodger legacy, and Sandy has always been a key part of that."

Said Koufax: "The hard part is, my life is good, and am I taking a chance of ruining it with you guys [media]? Do I want to kind of open it up to all of this again? I thought, well, I'll take a chance."

In typical careful Koufax fashion, he agreed only after much thought, and kept the agreement short.

"If I'm not enjoying it, it's one year," he said. "I thought, OK, I come out here every year for a week to see people anyway, I'll take my chances.' "

Since his stunning retirement in 1966 at the height of his career — he was only 30 — Koufax has taken other chances with his home team, but they have always ended uncomfortably.

 

BLOGS

Jump to a blog